July 12, 2024

Sugarcane Ash Release Toxicant Leading to Mysterious Kidney Disease in Agricultural Workers

A study published in the American Journal of Kidney Diseases suggests that the burning of sugarcane and rice husks may be releasing a toxicant that is causing a mysterious kidney disease in agricultural workers. This ongoing epidemic of chronic kidney disease has been observed in hot agricultural communities worldwide, including Central America, India, and Sri Lanka.

While heat stress and climate change have been identified as contributing factors to this epidemic, researchers have now identified tiny silica particles released from sugarcane ash as a potential cause of chronic kidney damage. These silica particles can be inhaled or ingested through contaminated drinking water, leading to lasting kidney damage.

To further investigate this issue, the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus collaborated with doctors at Hospital Rosales in San Salvador, El Salvador, to evaluate patients suffering from this mysterious chronic kidney disease. The study found a significantly higher presence of silica particles in the kidney tissue of patients with this specific disease compared to patients with other known kidney diseases. This indicates a possible link between the disease and exposure to sugarcane ash.

It is important to note that the burning of rice paddies can also release silica-containing ash, making people who work in rice paddies also potentially at risk. This suggests that the disease may not be limited to sugarcane workers but could affect agricultural workers in general.

Richard Johnson, MD, a professor at the CU Anschutz School of Medicine and one of the senior authors of the study, emphasizes that while the data is preliminary, it indicates that the burning of sugarcane may not only contribute to climate change but also play a role in the epidemic affecting agricultural workers. He states, “This disease is identified as one of the first newly recognized diseases resulting specifically from a warming climate. Now we know toxicants are also involved.”

The findings of this study highlight the need to focus on sugarcane burning as a potential risk factor for the development of this mysterious kidney disease in both workers and individuals living adjacent to sugarcane fields. The researchers hope that this work will spur efforts to regulate the burning of sugarcane and rice paddies to protect the health of agricultural workers and communities affected by this disease.

As more research is conducted, it is crucial to understand the impact of sugarcane ash and other agricultural practices on human health. This will help develop preventive measures and strategies to mitigate the risk of developing this mysterious kidney disease among agricultural workers in various parts of the world.


  1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
  2. We have leveraged AI tools to mine information and compile it