On May 20, the Sierra Club released a report by Dr. Jessica L. McCarty of the Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. The report, funded by the Sierra Club, disputes the findings of the “State of Our Air Report” published by U.S. Sugar in celebration of the start of the 90th harvest season in September 2020.
The “State of Our Air Report” compiled data – available online to anyone from state and federal databases – that shows the rural communities south of Lake Okeechobee enjoy air quality ranked at the highest level by the EPA, even better than air quality of the coastal communities.
In an Zoom press conference on Thursday, McCarty explained her work “was completed as an external service contract as work for hire by the Sierra Club.”
She claimed the single air quality monitor in the Belle Glade is not sufficient to adequately measure the particulate matter in the air in the Glades during the sugar cane harvest season.
McCarty’s paper “Burning Cane: Assessment of Current Air Quality Monitoring During Sugarcane Harvest in the Everglades Agricultural Area,” also claims “recent work has shown that sugarcane burning emissions contribute to DNA damage of agricultural workers.” The 2018 study she cites (by de Oliveria Galvao et. al) focused on biomass burning in the Brazilian Amazon. A related 2012 study about DNA damage involved sugar cane workers in Brazil who hand cut recently burned cane in the fields, a practice discontinued in Florida in the 1980s.
McCarty suggested regulatory grade air quality sensors be added in the communities of Pahokee, Indiantown, Loxahatchee, Wellington and Royal Palm Beach.
“There is a clear need for a regional air quality monitoring network,” said McCarty.
“South Florida is a region with a highly dispersive atomosphere,” she said. She proposed an aggressive buffer of “fire-free” areas around communities.
“A 3 mile fire-free buffer around many of the EAA communities would reduce potential exposure to smoke particulates,” she said. Later in the presentation, she suggested a 10-mile buffer would be even better.
In a statement released Thursday afternoon, Janet Taylor, president of Glades Lives Matter, disputed the Sierra Club’s claims.
“Earlier today Sierra Club promoted a NOAA and NASA atmospheric study – which they funded – which relied on air quality data taken from thousands of feet and miles above where we are and what we breathe here on the ground,” said Taylor.
“Yet it is the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the EPA who monitor what we are actually breathing here on earth and they assure us that our air is safe and healthy and better than the air in surrounding urban areas.
“We encourage Sierra Club leaders and those who continually attack our economy and way of life to check these surrounding urban areas to see if their air is as safe as ours – we certainly hope it is,” she continued.
“Sierra Club and the anti-farm protest movement are once again feigning ‘concern’ for the people of the Glades. While it suits their agenda to be concerned today about our health as it relates to air quality, these same groups of people do not have the same concerns when it relates to water quality. They have no problems supporting the idea – as they did just this week – of sending toxic water south, right through the heart of our communities. If it’s too dangerous for their wealthy coastal communities, it’s too dangerous for our farming communities.
“We here in the Glades have had it with Sierra Club and their public relations stunts, scare campaigns and fake concern. If they really want to help they can start with the truth,” she added.