A group of Maui residents who oppose sugar cane burning has circulated a petition to more than 6,000 people asking Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co. and the state Department of Health to stop allowing smoke to pollute the air in publicly accessible areas, an announcement said.
The group has scheduled a sign-waving event at 10 a.m. Saturday at the corner of Mokulele Highway and Dairy Road to raise awareness about the number of people who want to see cane burning stopped as a pre-harvesting measure for sugar cane.
Stop Cane Burning organizer Karen Chun said: "There are many studies showing that the particles in agricultural smoke damage the lungs and heart."
She said the studies have been posted online at stopcaneburning.org.
HC&S General Manager Rick Volner Jr. acknowledged that any smoke aggravates pre-existing conditions, such as asthma.
Volner said HC&S had not seen the group's petition as of Friday afternoon.
"We want to be a good neighbor," he said. "And we would prefer not to burn, but the pre-harvest practice of burning is essential to our current viability."
Burning cane reduces the amount of material to be harvested and maximizes the amount of sugar available for extraction, Volner said.
The plantation employs 800 residents in a variety of jobs, ranging from field and factory workers to truck drivers, he said.
Volner said HC&S has worked to improve ways to provide residents with advance notification of cane field burnings, including, earlier this year, a website with an interactive map of fields to be burned and email and text messages to residents who want current information on cane harvesting.
Cane harvesting is a science, he said, and workers aim to create a plume of smoke that would rise high into the air, over populated areas and blow out to sea on prevailing trade winds.
HC&S complies with state and federal laws in its harvesting operations, he said.
Chun said fellow anti-cane burning activist Kevin Jackson has encouraged residents affected by cane smoke to make formal reports to the Health Department's representative, Blake Shiigi, at 984-8234 or via email at email@example.com.
According to Jackson, the Health Department "gives so many exceptions to the requirement that HC&S 'minimize visible smoke from entering any nearby building, public road, highway, beach or any area to which the public has unrestricted access' that the burn permit is toothless."
Jackson said Maui residents are frustrated by the blanket response about burning that "HC&S burn was legal."
Chun said only a few people lodge complaints.
"I was amazed when I saw that the 2012 Open Air Burn Permit only listed a handful of complaints," she said. "I think it is because none of us knew we had to document the smoke incident. The stopcaneburning.org link makes it easy."