Clubs and Organizations
August 31, 2019
For decades, South Florida farmers have carefully and safely burned sugarcane under government permit and regulation prior to harvest. Unfortunately, activists recently ramped up public efforts regarding pre-harvest sugarcane burns, and these false attacks have reached local news.
We believe this carefully monitored practice is the safest farming method for our damp sub-tropical South Florida climate and Everglades muck soils.
The American Lung Association and annual Robert Wood Johnson Foundation reports verify Palm Beach, Hendry and Glades counties routinely have some of the best air quality (relating to particulate matter) in Florida. Also, abundant health data show that the Glades communities are at or below state and national averages on most respiratory and other health risks, including a Florida Department of Health “Burden of Asthma” study conducted in 2013.
Various media reports note potentially carcinogenic compounds called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (“PAHs”) were potentially 15 times higher in Belle Glade during the harvest season than during the growing season. This talking point is badly misleading. All measurements of PAHs in the 2016 study were well within the Environmental Protection Agency's regional screening level — that is the level they determined will not cause harm.
The EPA sets the protective level at 1.7 nanograms per meter of air (1.7 ng/m), and the highest PAH measured in the 2016 study was less than 0.025 ng/m. In other words, the highest level recorded was approximately 1/68 of the protective level set by the EPA.
While the majority of EPA’s data points on cancer, respiratory rates and asthma in the Glades are well below the state and national averages, we feel that the article cherry picked “environmental justice” estimates in the Glades areas in an effort to link negative health outcomes to our farming practices. A broader look shows similar “environmental justice” regions all over the state in urban areas where no sugarcane even exists, questioning any suggested link to farming practices.
Meanwhile, few of the studies referenced in the recent article considered Florida’s unique sugarcane crop conditions. Our farmers, with decades of combined experience with the practices of foreign countries that grow sugarcane, know Florida’s practices to be among the most carefully monitored and regulated in the United States, and the world.
Beyond monitoring and data showing we have clean air year after year, it is important to remember that we live in these same Glades communities. We raise our families here — our children and grandchildren — in the neighborhoods, schools and churches throughout these small, close-knit farming towns. The people of U.S. Sugar are thankful to live in farming communities with clean air and clean water, helping to sustainably grow food for America.