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Study finds volcano health harm

April 10, 2008
By SUDHIN THANAWALA, The Associated Press
HONOLULU — High levels of sulfur dioxide from Kilauea volcano have raised concerns about the health of nearby residents.

New research shows that low-level, chronic exposure to sulfur pollution from the Big Island volcano may cause a number of problems, including higher rates of sore throats, runny noses and coughs, according to a report released in February.

The study of 335 people also found faster pulse rates and higher blood pressure among exposed groups, said Bernadette Longo, one of the authors of the study and a professor of nursing at the University of Nevada, Reno.

‘‘As far as I know, this is the first study that looks at the health effects of volcanic air pollution exposure on the heart and lungs anywhere in the world,’’ Longo said during a telephone interview Wednesday.

Elevated sulfur dioxide levels from the volcano forced the closure of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park for the second straight day Wednesday. The National Park Service said air conditions were worse than Tuesday, when 2,000 people were evacuated from the park.

Hawaii health officials counseled residents who have respiratory conditions such as asthma or are exposed to sulfur pollution for prolonged periods to take precautions. They should stay indoors and use air conditioners, not smoke, drink warm fluids to loosen mucus and limit physical exertion.

The Department of Health also recommends that people keep an adequate supply of any medication they are taking. Health officials say people should contact their physicians if they develop any respiratory problems.

‘‘I’m really concerned that parents of asthmatic children are vigilant,’’ said Beth-Ann Kozlovich, director of development for the American Lung Association of Hawaii.

Longo’s study, which was conducted in 2004, compared groups exposed to sulfur pollution in the Kau District of the Big Island with an unexposed group in Hawi. All the residents in the study had lived in the areas for at least seven years.

She found that reports of runny nose among people exposed to sulfur dioxide were five times greater than in the unexposed group. The prevalence of a daily sore or dry throat was 13 times higher among the group exposed to sulfur dioxide, she said.

Longo said her work confirms the findings of other research about sulfur dioxide and particulate matter.

Longo said she now wants to work with clinicians in the area to promote good health among residents by encouraging them to take their medications and helping them quit smoking, both of which she said can affect blood pressure.


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