We know a picture’s worth a thousand words, and this year Friends of the Everglades has worked to visually chronicle the story of sugarcane burning in Florida. The images, seen here in the carousel above, are alarming.
May marked the final days of the 2021-2022 burn season, which began in October. For the last eight months, large plumes of smoke regularly darkened the sky over Glades communities. Smoke and black ash became the regular backdrop for community and family events, encroaching on barbecues, wedding receptions, playgrounds, and roadways adjacent to burning fields.
Mounting evidence from ProPublica and The Palm Beach Post’s investigative reporting, and from medical researchers around the world, has linked sugarcane burns to serious health impacts. Increases in eye inflammation, hospitalization due to respiratory distress, worsening lung function and risks of lung cancer are all possible side effects of living in close range to cane fields as they burn.
And yet, as we reflect on the sugarcane burning season that just ended, we still can’t point to any meaningful action from the Florida regulators responsible for issuing burn permits. They have not made the affected communities safe. In fact, even with the increasing awareness of the detrimental health impacts as well as the safer, burn-free harvesting alternatives that exist, communities of color are still harmed disproportionately by policies that use wind direction to determine when permits are issued. That is to say, when the wind blows to the east towards affluent, coastal areas, permits are not typically granted. But when the wind blows west, no such safeguards are in place.
As a matter of justice, there is no worthy excuse that should keep the state of Florida from moving forward with an eventual ban of pre-harvest sugarcane burning, as other countries have already embraced. In the meantime, it is imperative that the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services expands current burn protections by establishing a 27-30 mile burn-ban buffer to guarantee the safety of all surrounding residents, instead of just a chosen few.
By signing this new petition, you can help us forge a meaningful pathway to a long overdue solution. Together, we can help make this The Last Burn Season.