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.
- As Sugar Cane Fields Catch Fire Around Us, Business as Usual Must Go Up in Smoke
- A Florida State University (FSU) study published in 2022 revealed that (1) between 1-6 people die each year from exposure to sugarcane burning pollution in Florida; and (2) the increment of mortality risk attributed to sugarcane burning for people residing closest to the burned fields is 10-times higher than that increment for those living farther away.
- “A Complete Failure of the State”: Authorities Didn’t Heed Researchers’ Calls to Study Health Effects of Burning Sugar Cane reported that there is a 35% uptick in hospital admissions for respiratory issues for Belle Glade, FL residents during the harvesting season.
- Research from the University of Stanford shows that zip codes in Florida’s pre-harvest sugar field burning region experience the worst annual smoke exposure in the entire nation.
- More research and data relating to the negative health impacts from exposure to pre-harvest sugar field burning pollution.