The smoke comes every year. Sugar companies say the air is safe.

2021-07-08

To harvest more than half of America’s cane sugar, billion-dollar companies set fire to fields, a money-saving practice that’s being banned by other countries. Some residents say they struggle to breathe, so we started tracking air quality.

In the fall of 2019, brothers Donovan and Jayceon Sonson spent eight weeks lying in hospital beds, struggling to breathe.

The young boys, then 5 and 6 years old, had developed upper respiratory infections on top of the severe asthma they’d had since they were toddlers.

Anytime they left their apartment, they took their “medicine box,” a plastic bin filled with red inhalers, prescribed steroids and a pink nebulizer shaped like a kitten. When the hospital released the boys just before Thanksgiving, doctors sent the family home with guidance on how to protect the boys from future episodes.

Among the instructions: “Keep your child away from secondhand smoke.”

Thelma Freeman, the boys’ grandmother, stared at the note. She didn’t smoke. Neither did anyone in her home. The problem was all around her, she thought, coming not from smokers but from an industry that provides thousands of jobs in her town: sugar.

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ProPublica.org, 8 July 2021
; https://projects.propublica.org/black-snow/