A Maui group has filed a lawsuit to end the practice of cane burning on the Valley Isle, five weeks after a controversial burn in Kihei.
The group, Stop Cane Burning, alleges that the health department can't, legally, issue burn permits to corporations.
"The legislature has provided no standards with respect to air pollution or open air burning so the Department of Health doesn't have the power to create a system," says Lance Collins, attorney for Stop Cane Burning.
On May 27, social media sites were flooded with video of smoke pouring into schools. Kids covered their mouths as they walked outside and pictures showed thick, black smoke filling the air. That fueled the fire for Maui residents seeking to stop the burning of sugar cane which has been used in Hawaii for decades.
"People are sick and children are sick," says Joe Ritter, a Maui physicist and biochemist, "Just ask the school nurses, children are choking. I'm tired of the Department of Health and corporations blowing smoke up our Valley Isle."
The suit seeks an injunction to prevent more permits from being issued and alleges, the burns by Hawaiian Commercial and Sugar companyviolate the Hawaii Environmental Policy Act.
HC&S did have the proper permits for the burn and are not named in the lawsuit, but the state is investigating the May 27 burn to make sure all procedures were followed.
"People have been trying for quite awhile to get an adequate response from the Department of Health and it's rather unfortunate that it's being taken to this level but perhaps thats what's necessary," says activist Terez Amato. She says her teen son had to be hospitalized with breathing problems as a result.
"More and more people are living down wind of the smoke and we need to take action," says Karen Chun of Stop Cane Burning.
The lawsuit gives the state agency three weeks to respond.
The DOH did issue a statement to Hawaii News Now Thursday afternoon:
"The Hawaii Department of Health received notice today of the lawsuit filed by Stop Cane Burning, and is unable to provide a comment on the litigation at this time. We take our responsibility to protect the public very seriously, and the department will continue to work with residents, HC&S, elected officials and government agencies to listen to and address the concerns of the community."
The department is seeking public comment on the 2015-2016 Agricultural Burn Permit for HC&S sugar cane fields on Maui.
Written comments are being accepted until Aug. 29 at the DOH Honolulu office: