The Department of Health Clean Air Branch is working to determine if HC&S, Hawaiian Commercial and Sugar Company, followed permit guidelines when it burned cane Wednesday on Maui.
Cell phone video and pictures show thick smoke filling Kihei neighborhoods and school children covering their mouths with their shirts. Resident Terez Amato Lindsey shared a picture of her teenager in the hospital getting a breathing treatment.
Ground level smoke is prohibited as part of the permit guidelines.
"It's a serious threat," Physicist Joe Ritter says the smoke from these burns are toxic, "This is a serious health risk not just the children but to the entire community."
Dr. Ritter says the chemicals in sugar cane have been labeled carcinogens. He says the conditions Wednesday, a lack of trade winds, caused the smoke to hover above Kihei and the burn should have been called off.
"I started to feel a little bit dizzy and my stomach started to turn," says Kihei resident Katie Caccamo, "I felt like I was going to vomit."
Caccamo thought her neighbors home was on fire until she walked outside.
The General Manager of HC&S, Rick Volner, issued this statement late Thursday:
"We understand there have been some complaints regarding our agricultural burn in Kihei yesterday. HC&S believes that all rules, procedures and guidelines were properly followed when conducting the agricultural burn. We have provided the DOH with all of our records and data related to yesterday's burn and we would encourage an official investigation. Farming, by its very nature, can produce dust, noise, odors, and smoke which can aggravate pre-existing health conditions, like any other kind of smoke. We do our utmost to minimize the potential for any impacts on our neighbors from our farming activities, including making extensive efforts to inform the community in advance of where and when we are scheduled to conduct agricultural burns, so that they can be prepared. We encourage the community to sign up for free text alerts, phone calls, emails or log on to our website www.hcsugar.com<http://www.hcsugar.com> to be informed on upcoming burns.
Another burn is scheduled for Friday morning in Kihei.