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Burning Cane is Unhealthy and Dangerous

Alternative harvesting methods are used throughout the world.

April 3, 2014
Ed Felien - South Maui , Maui Weekly

We know that burning sugar cane is unhealthy and dangerous. We know that hospital admissions for respiratory illnesses for children and seniors are up when the cane is burned. (1) We know that burning the cane is harmful to agricultural workers and can cause genetic mutations and cancer. (2) We know that burning cane is bad for the soil. (3)(4)(5)(6)(7)(8)

We do not know what HC&S is burning along with the cane. What is the toxic stew that they are incinerating and forcing down our lungs? We know from their 2011 Annual Report that they produced 182,800 tons of sugar in 2011 from 15,063 acres compared to 171,800 tons in 2010 from 15,488 acres because of "better agronomic practices." (9) What were those "better agronomic practices?" Herbicides? Pesticides?

The state Legislature should be concerned about our health. The Senate Committee on Commerce and Consumer Protection should be protecting us. Sen. Roz Baker is chair of that committee. Why hasn't she done something to stop the burning of sugar cane? Why hasn't she called a hearing on this hazard? As a member of the Senate Health Committee, isn't she concerned about our health?

1.U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health Environ Health Perspect. May 2006; 114(5): 725-729. Published online Jan. 13, 2006 (doi:10.1289/ehp.8485, PMCID: PMC1459926).

"We analyzed the influence of emissions from burning sugar cane on the respiratory system during almost one year in the city of Piracicaba in southeast Brazil. From April 1997 through March 1998, samples of inhalable particles were collected, separated into fine and coarse particulate mode, and analyzed for black carbon and tracer elements. At the same time, we examined daily records of children (less than 13 years of age) and elderly people (over 64 years of age) admitted to the hospital because of respiratory diseases.

"Generalized linear models were adopted with natural cubic splines to control for season and linear terms to control for weather. Analyses were carried out for the entire period, as well as for burning and non-burning periods. Additional models were built using three factors obtained from factor analysis, instead of particles or tracer elements.

"Increases of 10.2 _g/m3 in particles ? 2.5 _m/m3 aerodynamic diameter (PM2.5) and 42.9 _g/m3 in PM10 were associated with increases of 21.4 percent [95 percent confidence interval (CI), 4.3-38.5] and 31.03 percent (95 percent CI, 1.25-60.21) in child and elderly respiratory hospital admissions, respectively.

"When we compared periods, the effects during the burning period were much higher than the effects during non-burning period. Elements generated from sugar cane burning (factor one) were those most associated with both child and elderly respiratory admissions. Our results show the adverse impact of sugar cane burning emissions on the health of the population, reinforcing the need for public efforts to reduce and eventually eliminate this source of air pollution."

2."Emissions generated by sugar cane burning promote genotoxicity [genotoxicitydescribes the property of chemical agents that damages the genetic information within a cell causing mutations, which may lead to cancer] in rural workers: a case study in Barretos, Brazil." Environmental Health Journal by HCS Silveira - _2013.

"Exposure to emissions produced by the burning of sugar cane during harvesting induces genomic instability in workers, indicating the necessity of adopting more advanced techniques of harvesting sugar cane to preserve human health."

3. Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, a department of the Queensland Government, Dec. 14, 2010.

"Using fire to remove cane and cane trash from harvesting had been a long-standing practice within the Queensland sugar industry. In the last 20 years, the sugar industry has started to adopt green cane harvesting, which is harvesting cane without the traditional burning. In Queensland, green cane harvesting has risen from nil in 1980 to over 75 percent in 2005. Certain areas such as North Queensland have achieved almost 100 percent adoption.

"With green cane harvesting, the leaves and tops of the cane are left on the ground as a 'trash blanket.' Research indicates this protects the soil from erosion, increases soil moisture, provides weed control, nutrient and soil health advantages, and reduces herbicide use."

4.Journal of the American Society of Sugar Cane Technologists 29: 102-109, 2009, "Effects of Green Harvesting VS Burning on Soil Properties, Growth And Yield Of Sugarcane In South Texas" by Bob Wiedenfeld

"In Brazil, unburned mulching resulted in an increase in sugarcane yield in the subsequent crop, which was attributed to increased soil moisture retention (Ball-Coelho et al. 1993)."

5.Bundaberg Canegrowers, 32 Bourbong St. P.O. Box 953, Bundaberg QLD 4670

"In 1976, a very wet season in North Queensland prompted the reintroduction of green cane harvesting after a gap of more than 30 years. Over 85 percent of Queensland's sugarcane is now harvested green."

6.Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment, Volume 155, 15 July 2012, Pages 1-6

"Soil chemical fertility under the sugarcane without burning was better than under sugarcane with burn."

7.Sugarcane Best Cultivation Practices -

"The Brazilian industry also emphasizes farming techniques that preserve soil stability while yielding approximately 85 tons of sugarcane per hectare. Strategies include: no-till production systems; crop rotation with soybeans or peanuts.

"Green fertilization by planting cover crops such as Crotalaria juncea or using leftover sugarcane straw after mechanized harvesting as ground cover."

8.(Reuters, Sao Paulo, Mon. Oct. 22, 2007) "Almost 100 sugar and ethanol mills in Brazil's main sugar cane state, Sao Paulo, have agreed to stop the practice of burning cane fields by 2017, the Sugar Cane Industry Union (Unica) said on Monday."

9.Alexander & Baldwin Annual Report, 2011, page 13



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