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As Sugar Cane Fields Catch Fire, Business as Usual Must Go Up in Smoke

The Stop the Burn-Go Green Campaign leadership released the following statement on the first day of the pre-harvest sugar cane field burning season:

“As the sun rises today, October 1, 2023, another pre-harvest sugar cane field burning season dawns on the people in and around the Everglades Agricultural Area. Our call today is to the Palm Beach County Department of Health, which is one of the many accomplices of the sugar industry in its oppression of our communities and its concomitant attack on our public health.

Recent data reveals the burning truth: Sugarcane burning pollution contributes to an estimated 1 to 6 deaths annually in our communities. Those residing near these fields face a staggering 10-fold increase in mortality risk compared to those further away. FAU’s recent $4.2 million grant to investigate the connection between sugarcane burning pollution and Alzheimer’s is a testament to the gravity of the public health impacts. Florida medical professional organizations like Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR), Florida Clinicians For Climate Action (FCCA), Florida Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics (FCAAP), and the American Lung Association (ALA) have already raised the red flag about the health perils of pre-harvest sugar field burning. Yet, the silence from the Palm Beach County Department of Health is deafening.

The Palm Beach County Department of Health has the power and responsibility to alert residents to public health threats and does so when it comes to potential toxic algae outbreaks. And yet, the pregnant mothers, the elderly, the infirm, and the countless residents grappling with respiratory issues due to eight (8) months of relentless, toxic pollution from pre-harvest sugar cane field burning are left in the dark. Even the Coral Springs-Parkland Fire Department issues health warnings to residents suffering from respiratory issues on the rare occasions when sugarcane smoke impacts their communities.

This blatant disregard from Dr. Jyothi Gunta, Palm Beach County Department of Health Director, and the Palm Beach County Health Care District Board of Directors begs a serious question: Does the Palm Beach County Department of Health prioritize Big Sugar’s interests over the health and well-being of Palm Beach County residents? To date, the answer is yes.

The mounting evidence is undeniable. It is past time for the Palm Beach County Department of Health to respond to this threat to our lives. While our request to meet with the Department of Health leadership has been ignored, we will not be deterred; if you refuse to come to us, we will come to you. As sugar cane fields catch fire around us, business as usual must go up in smoke.

We stand resolute, ready to challenge every state agency and public official complicit in the ongoing injustice of pre-harvest sugar field burning, and the beginning of yet another season of pre-harvest burning has brought our attention to the fact that people are dying while the Palm Beach County Department of Health sits mute.”

Stop The Burn-Go Green campaign leadership team:

Ras Benjahman, Lake Harbor
Fred Brockman, Belle Glade
Anne Haskell, Belle Glade
Elaine Lavallee, Indiantown
Christine Louis-Juene, Belle Glade
Catherine Martinez, West Palm Beach
Steve Messam, Belle Glade
Elena Michel, Belle Glade
Kina Phillips, South Bay
Iyunni Phillips, South Bay
Kil’Mari Phillips, South Bay
Shanique Scott, South Bay
Luz Torres, Pahokee
Colin Walkes, Pahokee
Jody Young, Wellington

The Sierra Club is the oldest and largest environmental advocacy organization in the nation. The Florida Chapter of the Sierra Club boasts over 240,000 members and supporters committed to exploring, enjoying, and protecting the wild places of the earth.

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