Activists Confront the Department of Health With the Burning Truth

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - A resonating distress signal was sent by the Stop the Burn Go Green campaign to the Palm Beach County (PBC) Department of Health (DOH) during rush hour on Wednesday, November 1, 2023 when a crowd of over 50 concerned Palm Beach County residents protested outside of DOH headquarters. 

DOH has always completely ignored the life threatening health impacts from pre-harvest sugarcane field burning, despite widespread press coverage of the issue by local and national press outlets over the eight years since the Stop the Burn Go Green campaign began in earnest in 2015.

After receiving no response to a formal meeting request sent in September to Dr. Jyothi Gunta, Director of the Florida Department of Health in Palm Beach County, campaign leaders decided to take their questions and complaints directly to the agency headquarters.

“Why does the DOH caution residents about the dangers of irregular outbreaks of toxic algae, but remains mute when it comes to the dangers of the 8-month pre-harvest burn season?” said Pastor Steve Messam, a resident of Belle Glade. 

Luz Torres, resident of Pahokee, used the megaphone to remind DOH: “We got warnings about the recent Canadian haze, but have never gotten a health advisory about the weeks and weeks of ash and smoke from sugar field burning. It is time for DOH to explain themselves. It is past time for DOH to put the health of our communities over and above the wishes of the sugar industry.”

Clematis Street was lined with protesters chanting, singing, and waving posters with messages that included “Warning! 8 months of danger ahead”; "DOH, your silence is deafening”: “SOS DOH”, “DOH where’s your concern, issue the warning about the burn!”, “DOH won’t protect our Health, DOH Protects Big Sugar Wealth”, "Sugarcane smoke is slow violence, DOH stop the silence!”, “Sugarcane is burning, where’s our warning”, and “We deserve better.”

“People are dying, the fix is easy, and the DOH knows it,” said Jody Young, resident of Wellington.

“This isn’t over–we’ll be back! We won’t just sit back and wait for DOH to act” said Christine Louis-Jeune, resident of Belle Glade.

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