Maui is one of the last places on Earth where sugar cane is harvested by burning. Thirty-six thousand acres go up in smoke biannually.
More than 200 peer-reviewed studies have shown that smoke is a factor in lung disease. The public's complaints about cane burning have fallen on deaf ears at Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co.
Oregon has successfully banned agricultural burning but Hawaii politicians are afraid to go against parent company Alexander & Baldwin and the unions that support it.
The Environmental Protection Agency's hands are tied because its particulate limits are quite high and measured over 24 hours - deliberately so that intermittent sources like agricultural burning are allowed.
The state Department of Health ignores citizen complaints (one person submitted 100 detailed complaints with location, time and date without any response or action). There is only one particulate measurement station on Maui.
Until Stop Cane Burning's petition, HC&S promoted itself as the sole supplier to the Sugar in the Raw packaged by Cumberland Packaging Corp. of New York. Cumberland says its sugar is "all natural" and "healthy." Since HC&S ignored pleas to stop burning, we decided to appeal to Cumberland, hoping that it would, in turn, use its clout to get HC&S to harvest without burning.
As of this writing we have almost 1,000 signatures on our petition located at tinyurl.com/stopcaneburn.
We've already seen an effect on HC&S. It has removed any mention of being Sugar in the Raw's sole supplier. Our petition is getting noticed and we assume that Cumberland is not happy to see its "healthy" product the subject of carbon dioxide and lung disease complaints.
We hope that with increasing pressure targeting HC&S' other packagers - Maui Brand Sugar and C&H Sugar - HC&S will find it commercially damaging to continue burning and will change to solely mechanical harvesting.
Although no-burn harvesting requires an investment in new equipment, it has many advantages. Cane is harvested every year by cutting and leaving the stub to regrow up to four times. This cuts down on the dust and also the tilling and planting expense. Most likely this saving in fuel is why the rest of the world uses this method instead of burning.
If you are worried about your lungs; if your children have asthma; if you have reactive airway disease; or if you have another lung disease that is aggravated by cane smoke, please sign our petition and or go to StopCaneBurning.org for more information.
We are also gathering names of those who have not smoked in the last 10 years, yet have gotten lung disease, for a possible class-action lawsuit. If this is you, write to me at Karen@KarenChun.com.
* Karen Chun is the founder of Stop Cane Burning. She lives in Paia.