Doctor warns of health hazards from field burning

Doctor warns of health hazards from field burning
(Source: KAIT)
(Source: KAIT)
(Source: KAIT)
(Source: KAIT)

JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) - Around fall, farmers in Region 8 begin to burn their fields for next year but a local doctor is working to let people know just how dangerous this could be to the public's health.

Dr. Warren Skaug is a pediatrician in Jonesboro but began testing the air in downtown Jonesboro for particle amounts.

He said he and other doctors noticed an increase in the number of patients they saw with respiratory problems around this time of year.

Skaug said starting in September of this year, he received a piece of equipment that could test for large soot and small soot in the air.

His results showed days like October 9 to have enough small soot particles in the air that, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, was unhealthy for everyone.

Skaug said small soot can get into the lungs and even pass into the circulatory system causing heart issues.

The larger soot, he explained can get into the lungs and stay there for a person's entire life.

"We just simply want to bring this issue up that there is a public health hazard going on when cumulatively all these farms burn in a relatively short time span in the fall," Skaug said.

He advised people with chronic heart and lung problems to cut down on outdoor activity when field burning is going on as well as be aware of the surroundings.

Craighead County Extension Agent Branon Thiesse explained that after harvest, plant material is left behind making tilling the ground difficult for farmers.

"It's hard for the tilling equipment to incorporate that back into the ground," Thiesse said. "Add into that the dryness we've had for the last month and a half makes it even harder."

He said farmers are able to burn part of the material away so they can go back and till later.

Thiesse said there are alternatives to burning but each farmer can choose how they want to deal with their fields.

Lauren George, a business owner in downtown Jonesboro, said she has lived in the area for most of her life and is very aware of the smoke.

She said she does not have any chronic respiratory issues but is affected by the smoke from burning fields.

"I actually woke up this morning feeling really congested, kind of like my nose was bleeding, lots of coughing," George said.

She said her children are also showing similar respiratory problems.

George explained her 3-year-old daughter seemed to be affected more than her 7-year-old son.

Skaug said he, by no means, is mad at farmers for burning their fields.

He said testing is the first step to a long-term solution.

Skaug plans to work with the farming community to find a way where they can tend to their fields without creating a possible hazardous environment for others.

He and other doctors did sign a petition to bring the issue up to the state legislature with hope of finding a possible solution in the future.

Thiesse said he agreed with what Skaug is doing and hoped to work with the doctor to find a fix.

Copyright 2016 KAIT. All rights reserved.

Watch Region 8 News On Demand: On your Desktop | On your Mobile device

Region 8 News App - Install or update on your: iPhone | Android