As I write this, I’m gasping for air.

I can’t breathe. I have asthma. And I have an eye condition that prevents me from using steroids to control it.

Sugar cane grinding has started and farmers are burning their fields, polluting the air and taking my breath away. They do this every year, but this is the worst it’s ever been for me.

I checked the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality regulations to see if this practice might be illegal. They state its purpose is to set air quality emission standards “for the protection of public health and of public welfare from … effects of air contaminants.”

Great, I thought. It got even better when I read their prohibition against outdoor burning.

But my hopes were dashed by this specific exemption from the prohibition: “Burning of agricultural by-products in the field in connection with the planting, harvesting, or processing of agricultural products.”

That was said to be exempted by statute. And I found that it was by RS 30:2054.

The law and the regulations recognize that smoke from burning cane fields is a pollutant, which is obviously detrimental to health. Why is it allowed? Because our legislators cater to the cane farmers who want to reduce their costs by burning their cane. The politicians allow this because they get more political contributions from cane farmers than they get from the disorganized lot of people like me who have to wheeze and gasp for air during the grinding season that runs from September through December.

I urge the senators and representatives of the sugar-cane-producing parishes to do the right thing for the people who have to suffer from this cane-burning practice and repeal this law. I urge those who suffer, as I do, to call their legislators and demand action. I urge doctors who treat patients such as me to take similar action.

I’m not naïve. I know this will be an uphill battle. I’ll probably be likened to the snail darter that stood in the way of progress. Progress here is more money for farmers at my expense. But if you want to know what happens when you breathe smoke with asthma, exhale all you can and hold it as long as possible. See how it feels. Not pleasant.

And to all of you farmers out there burning cane today: I hope you choke.

William O. Bonin


New Iberia