Look at the map above. The data tracks the increasing prevalence of wildfire smoke across the nation.
It’s no surprise to see parts of California and the Midwest are lit up in red, due to dangerous wildfires that tear annually through areas of dry vegetation. What stood out is the data represented in our own backyards in Florida.
The data-mapping project from National Public Radio and Stanford University’s Environmental Change and Human Outcomes Lab found that parts of Palm Beach, Hendry, Glades and Okeechobee counties recorded the worst smoke days in the United States — even higher than the wildfire-prone West Coast. That’s right — some of the most dangerous air in America is produced as a result of an antiquated farming practice used by Florida’s sugarcane growers, who burn their crop to make harvesting easier from October to May.
The resulting smoke and ash rain down on nearby communities, choking residents and forcing them indoors. Recent reporting by ProPublica and the Palm Beach Post documented an uptick in emergency room visits that correspond with sugarcane burning season. Though there’s been an uprising of community action to stop the burns and move the industry toward the safer practice of green harvesting, the Glades communities have not yet been granted sufficient protections like those afforded to wealthier coastal communities to the east.
That’s where you can help. Friends of the Everglades continues to push the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to establish a 27-30 mile burn-ban buffer to safeguard residents south of Lake Okeechobee until the practice of preharvest burning is extinguished entirely. You can add your voice by sending a letter to Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried today.