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Smoke from sugarcane harvesting brings health concerns

Sugarcane burning has been around for decades.

And according to the LSU Ag Center Research and Extension website, burning of sugarcane cuts the overall cost of production, reduces the wear and tear on field and factory equipment, and could shorten the harvest season by as much as 10 percent.

The harvesting practice, however, presents medical challenges to individuals exposed to smoke and ash as a result of the yearly burning.

“While sugar is not by nature as inflammatory as say cigarette smoke, if you have a high enough volume of that and it comes into the lung, that combination kind of just causes a lot of problems for people,” said Dr. Jeremy Knott.

According to Knott, those problems can mimic an upper respiratory infection: runny nose, dry itchy eyes and a cough. Those who are most vulnerable will be the greatest at risk. Those include younger children, adolescents, the elderly, and those with underlying airway diseases like asthma and COPD.

So what are some preventative measures you can take?

Knott suggests limiting your exposure to smoke during the burning season.

“If you know what the burning schedule is going to be, try not to be in close proximity to it. If you do see something that’s burning down around where you’re at, keep the windows closed, let it kind of pass through,” said Knott. “They typically are just short waves that go through and so it’s really just trying to get out of that heaviest period where that particle burn is the highest.”

Sugarcane harvesting season typically runs from October through January
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