On trail of kidney ills, study illuminates a brutal job

Sugar cane harvesters often reached recommended heat limits as early as 8 a.m. and risk adverse health effects throughout the rest of the daily shift, according to a three-year study.

A large percentage of harvesters experience symptoms consistent with heat exhaustion throughout the harvest season, and this demonstrates an urgent need to improve working conditions for sugarcane harvesters both now and in planning for future climate change, the researcher said.

She is Jennifer Crowe, an Illinois native who works at Universidad Nacional in Heredia. The Atenas resident presented her study as a d

Jennifer Crowe

Jennifer Crowe

octoral thesis at Umeå University in Sweden.

The plight of sugar cane workers in Central America became front page news after other studies showed a spike in potentially fatal and mysterious kidney diseases. Guanacaste is the major sugar producing location in Costa Rica, but the kidney problems range into and are more severe in other Central American countries.

Ms. Crowe did not say that overheating was the entire reason for the kidney epidemic, but her studies provide benchmarks for the challenging working conditions for sugar cane harvesters and those in the cane processing plants.

She and colleagues used instruments to measure temperature, wind and other conditions in which the workers toiled. Also measured was fluid intake and urine. In some cases, blood and other indications of internal stress were found in the urine. Metabolic heat levels in humans is a well-studied area, and Ms. Crowe and her colleagues had the advantage of plenty of existing data on how humans function.

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