VIDEO: Cane Burning Protesters Don Gas Masks and Oxygen Tanks

September 29, 2012, 3:47 PM HST · Updated September 29, 11:07 PM
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Cane Burning protest. Photo by Wendy Osher.

By Wendy Osher

Nearly 100 people attended a sign waving event on Maui today hosted by a group opposed to cane burning on the island.

“HC&S has been dragging their feet on switching to bio-fuels for a decade and people are literally sick from the smoke,” said event organizer Karen Chun. “Because of HC&S’s procrastination, their workers are being used as pawns to force the Department of Health into granting open air burn permits that damage our lungs. The question our community has to answer is: How many asthma deaths are a fair trade for HC&S jobs?”

The event was held less than a mile away from the Puunene Mill where a separate rally being held in support of HC&S, and the 800 people that the company employs.

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When asked about the counter-protest organized by HC&S, organizer Kevin Jackson said, “HC&S workers are being told their jobs are on the line. The company doesn’t tell them that the reason their keiki have asthma is smoke.”

The sign waving event comes on the heels of petitions delivered to HC&S and the Health Department which seek and end to the practice of cane burning.

StopCaneBurning.org asserts that there is widespread scientific proof that soot causes lung disease and offers two peer-reviewed papers on their website which they claim show a link between asthma attacks and cane smoke.

“A lot of us have lung disease that can be directly traced, according to our physicians to a specific burn; and people are realizing that it’s not just an inconvenience–it is a health hazard,” said Chun.

Cane Burning protest. Photo by Wendy Osher.

Resident Courtney Bruch was among those who showed up to voice her health issue concerns saying, “Maui is such a wonderful place full of pristine beauty.  I’ve only lived here 12 years, but I’m very allergic to the cane smoke–sometimes I can’t work or even go out when the burns are happening.”

Bruch said this is not about the opponents being against HC&S, “We just want clean air here… I really care about the people that work there, and I feel there’s healthy alternatives,” said Bruch who suggested the legalization of industrial hemp and bamboo farming.

“HC&S is owned by Alexander and Baldwin, which is a huge corporation.  This is not a traditional Hawaiian practice–this is people who came in and took the lands and hired people, and that’s still what’s going on today,” said Bruch.

“Anyone who’s conducting business should not be allowed to cause harm,” said fellow sign waver Carlita Tohtz.  She expressed concern over her health and the health of her five-year-old son saying, “I can tell when I wake up by the way that I’m breathing and the way my son face looks, especially under the eyes, and the way he’s breathing whether there’s been a burn that morning.”

Cane Burning protest. Photo by Wendy Osher.

“Unless we force HC&S’s hand to get serious about switching to bio-fuels, we’re going to see more asthma deaths and new lung disease cases,” asserted Chun in a statement. “I’m mystified as to why HC&S would continue burning cane with the liability exposure they have.”

“It’s a very difficult position that HC&S is in, because they want to continue farming, they want to continue providing jobs, and yet they’re causing the health hazard for the public.  I’m very hopeful that we can resolve this in a way that is going to be a win-win,” said Chun.

When asked if there was a lawsuit in the works, Chun refused comment.

“We’re not against sugar, we’re not against sugar for bio-fuel, we are not against HC&S.  We just want to breathe clean air,” said sign waver Susan Douglas.

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