Maui Discussion

LETTER: Health Problem on Maui Not Caused by Cane Burning

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By Ken Owen, Kihei

"Black snow". Photo by Lyn Lopez.

“Maui snow” caused by cane burning in a residential area in Kihei. File photo courtesy Lyn Lopez.

I have recently had quite a few discussions with people who suffered from a lung infection that they all blamed on the cane burning in Maui. I too have suffered along with my entire family at one time or another from lung infections. There is definitely a health problem on Maui and I believe that a lot of people are barking up the wrong tree.

Even though the most obnoxious thing happening in Kihei is the smell of the smoke and the falling ash from the cane burning. I actually agree with the EPA that cane burning is not causing the serious illnesses that everybody is complaining about. Breathing the smoke can cause an asthma attack but so can a bar-b-que.

The serious cough and lung infections that we have been experiencing in Kihei are bacterial infections. It is caused by the pathogens that we are breathing. There are no pathogens in the burnt cane cloud. Pathogens can not survive the intense heat. There are no pathogens on the ashes as they float through the air.


What makes people sick is what follows the burning of the cane days after. When harvesting the cane they are pulling it out of the ground, roots and all. There is bacteria that lives on the roots of all plants. This bacteria and other pathogens is on the dirt and dust particles that are falling off the plants and kicked up by the tires of the harvesting vehicles. It then forms a huge cloud picked up by the wind and blown across the island and a lot of it ends up in and on the residents of Kihei. The necessary bacteria and other pathogens that live in the soil are present for at least a year after the plants are pulled out. For years I believe that these dust clouds caused my illnesses. One good thing is that I have been a lot healthier in recent years because I’ve learned to avoid these dust clouds like the plague.

There is a way to reduce if not eliminate the sickness that a lot of people are suffering from. There are laws that construction companies have to follow to reduce and control the dust on a job site. HC&S does absolutely nothing to control the dust cloud that is causing permanent damage to residents and visitors. In my opinion it is also killing the reef in most of Kihei. A simple wash down and wetting down the path’s that the harvesting equipment use would make a huge difference. Erosion of the cane fields would also be reduced.

I think that anybody who has experience farming and some scientific knowledge related to farming would have already figured this out. My knowledge of science and farming is minimal but when combined with what I see going on and my personal experience it becomes quite obvious to me what caused myself and so many others to get sick.


I am writing this letter to you because the people that I have talked to about this subject find it hard to believe that the smoke is not causing their cough and lung problems. It’s after I tell them that there are no pathogens on something that is burnt to ashes that they believe that it is the dust that’s making them sick.

After sharing my opinion with people who have experienced the severe lung infection related to living in or even vacationing in Kihei, most of them have all asked me if I have done anything about it. My only response until now has been that I talked to the council member of Kihei and his response was that the dust control laws do not apply to farming sugar cane and it would be impossible to make a new law that would change the way they farm. He also mentioned that new laws would affect new farming and HC&S would probably get around the new laws because they would be grandfathered in. Much the same way that they are able to burn coal at their plant instead of using electricity.

I would like to know who I need to share this information with to get some sort of accurate testing done. I personally think that there is a real health hazard here. Once it is confirmed that the dust is hazardous and making people sick there has to be something that can be done to make Kihei a safer, healthier place to live and visit.



Send letters to [email protected]. Include your full name, town and clearly argued point in preferably ~500 words. Brief responses to the article above should be submitted in the comments section below.

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