Saturday, June 27, 2015

Sugar Cane Burning - Target Of Sierra Club

CLEWISTON, FL. -- The Sierra Club has launched a campaign to stop the pre-harvest burning of sugarcane fields in South Florida. The goal of the Stop Sugar Field Burning Campaign is to help residents put an end to the practice and stop the sugar growers from "profiting at the expense of public health."

Florida’s sugarcane growers burn their fields before harvesting to dispose of the foliage, but this generates large plumes of smoke and puts communities throughout Palm Beach, Glades and Hendry county at risk, says the Sierra Club.

Julia Hathaway, Sierra Club organizing representative, said: “We need to build on the successes of Brazil and Australia and tailor green harvesting techniques to Florida. It is just not acceptable for an industry to externalize the costs of doing business onto society. It’s time to end a practice that makes our community sick.”

She added, "We can make this happen, but we will have to come together and be a voice for those people who live in the Everglades Agricultural Area. These communities are among the most affected and yet have the least financial and political recourse. This is a public health issue and an issue of environmental justice."

Recent studies have shown that the particulate matter and the emissions produced by sugarcane field burning are far more hazardous than ever thought. Research has shown direct links to respiratory, cardiovascular and other serious diseases. Some of the chemicals emitted when the sugarcane is burned are carcinogens.

Last harvest season, which runs for approximately half the year, an estimated 300,000 of 440,000 acres of sugarcane were burned. After the burns, the fields contain only the bamboo-like stalks. This allows the harvesters to go faster and decreases the tonnage that has to be taken to the mill for processing, maximizing profits for an a lucrative industry.

But while Florida sugar corporations say they burn to stay profitable, countries like Brazil and Australia have shown that “green harvesting” is a cost-effective, healthier alternative to sugarcane burning.

Green harvesting makes beneficial use of the entire plant and there is no burning. The plant’s “waste” product can be left on the ground as a mulch for some soil types, transported to a facility with air scrubbers to produce electricity, or turned into products like bioplastics or biofuels.
James Stormer, recently retired Environmental Administrator for the Palm Beach County Health Department, says research conducted here in 2010 by the University of Florida found the species of sugarcane grown in Florida when burned in a combustion chamber and showed contaminants on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) air pollutant list.
Found were polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, carbonyl and volatile organic compounds as well as fine particle particulates, organic carbon, and elemental carbon. The researchers detected hazardous air pollutants the EPA is required to regulate, including naphthalene, formaldehyde, benzene and styrene. These toxins can cause impacts ranging from drowsiness and headaches to neurological and liver damage.

-from press release by Sierra Club

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