Maui War Brewing

Maui War Brewing


For the past two weeks, Maui Time Magazine has run articles in regard to the practice of burning sugar cane on Maui. Until you live here, you just can’t imagine how the cane burning and its attendant smoke can affect you. This taken from my back porch:

One physician’s (a radiolgist) letter to Maui Time is excerpted here:” I am in excellent health and am not sick…yet I have been coughing non-stop today. As my windshield was covered with cane ashes this morning,  I assume that my cough is due to cane burning…particularly disruptive as my job as a radiologist requires me to dictate for approximately nine hours per day…if I can’t do my job effectively I may have to move. If I move, it will likely be out of Hawaii. I live and work in Kihei.” He goes on to say that he was talking to retirees who spend part of the year on Maui, and they stated that the smoke made them cough and “feel lousy.” They were discussing not coming to Maui as often, because of it.

The radiologist wraps up his letter with: “I have two small children and although I love otherwise living on Maui, I feel irresponsible as a parent to continue to subject them to forced inhalation of cane smoke. I hope that those in charge of making decisions regarding the burning of cane on Maui also feel some responsibilty to care for the health and welfare of it citizens.” Please note that Hawaii has the highest incidence of asthma in the country, which particularly affects children, and early on.

Sugar Cane Ash

I took this photo of sugar ash by a curb in Kahului. Imagine what that does to your lungs! It is greasy, tarry and sticky, so it sticks to your car, your porches, your garbage cans, and your walkways at your home.

Maui Time states “Maui’s fight over sugar cane burning gets even hotter.” The truth is, there isn’t much of anything that gets Mauians more fired up than the cane burning and its smoke. This past week it lead to a woman having rocks thrown at her and being called a “Haole *%@^” when she wound up on the wrong side of the street during a planned sugar-cane rally! The opponents were employees of HC&S, which employs 800 people. A recent petition, circulated to stop the burn, garnered 8,000 signatures.

HC&S burns 400 ACRES of cane per year, which comes out to about 70 acres per day (roughly the size of Disneyland.) Try as you might to think you can escape it, if you are out and about, your are breathing it. Also,many Maui people don’t have air-conditioning (they didn’t move to Hawaii to live in sealed boxes) but with the cane smoke, are forced to keep their windows closed and as one woman put it “to circulate the smoke already in the house.” (My experience is that even with the windows closed, some smoke seeps in.)

A woman with the initials A.I. wrote: “Today my daughter is home sick , after weeks of burning (the accumulative affects that her immune system just can’t handle indefinitely)…she has been home bound all weekend and her asthma is too bad for her to go to school.I am an independent contractor, and I don’t get sick pay when I stay home with my children.” She ended with:

“It may cost HC&S profit to change their farming practices, but think of all the other businesses that won’t be paying sick leave due to cane-related illnesses.”

And what about health care?

I personally am one of the people whose asthma is aggravated by the smoke. I did not have asthma before moving to Hawaii. We are fortunate if our trade winds blow the smoke out. If the trades are down, this is what we look at and breathe for hours:

Sugar Cane Smoke on Maui

Another piece of the puzzle to think about, when you’re wondering what it’s really like to live in Paradise.

A hui hou! If you’d like to subscribe to this blog, please click the Follow button on the Home page. Mahalo for stopping by!

Aloha, Jamaica

4 thoughts on “Maui War Brewing

  1. Another tough dilemma. I’ve been on Maui many times during the burning cycles and have marvelled at the amount of crud (smoke and ashes) it creates. This is another one of those instances where it’s hard to understand why a tourist destination allows something so ugly to continue. The answer, of course, is that the industry employees 800 people, generates income for the company, and generally has an economic impact. There’s probably also some sort of historical value placed on sugar harvesting. I wonder if there’s some way to strike a balance? Are there other profitable cane-harvesting methods? Can field burning be restricted to days when the trades will clear the smoke out faster? Is sugar even a sustainable industry on the island of Maui? I sincerely hope an accord can be reached that will both preserve the livability of Maui, keep people employed and allow the aloha spirit to keep flowing. It’s going to be hard to come up with a solution that is pono for all, but here’s hoping!

    • And yet A&B (HC&S is just a trademark of A&B) has said in its annual report that restrictions on burning will NOT affect its profit. The line about people losing their jobs is never said by the company – because they’d be in trouble with the SEC if they lied like that.

      UPDATE: Stop Cane Burning has filed suit to invalidate the burn permit.

    • Aloha Angie,
      Sugar cane is big business on Maui and they have been here forever. The burning practices have not changed at all. Many locals feel that it’s the outsiders who come here and try to people try to tell people what to do, who are the problem. I am keeping a tally of how many times they’ve burned this year, and will post toward the end of the year. They burned this morning, and my ears are aching, I woke with a headache, my sinuses are plugged, and my throat burns. I have to use my inhaler, and did not have these health issues before moving to Maui.
      Thank you for asking about this issue….
      Aloha, Jamaica

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