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Vog spurs health advisory

Kilauea’s dramatic effects seen in Maui’s air quality

April 25, 2008
The Maui News and The Associated Press
Sulfur dioxide levels around the Kilauea eruption sites and Hawaii Volcanoes National Park kept the park closed Thursday, with SO2 levels reported peaking at 5 parts per million on Wednesday around the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory facilities.

On Maui, the Maui District Health Office issued an advisory urging individuals with respiratory conditions to take precautions, although the state Health Department said there was no indication of a significant threat to health.

“For the general population, it’s not a problem,” said Health Department spokeswoman Janice Okubo.

But the light winds allowing an accumulation of vog over the islands could lead to difficulties for individuals who are already impaired, she said. The problem on Maui was increased by smoke from a brush fire on the slopes above Maalaea that had scorched an estimated 15 acres late Thursday afternoon.

The health office advisory included a ban on burning on Maui. The advisory is to remain in effect at least until 6 p.m. today, with weather specialists saying the light wind conditions are expected to continue into the weekend.

Okubo said the department’s air-monitoring station in Kihei will measure only particulate matter, not sulfur dioxide, and had not shown any increase in particulates despite the hazy conditions.

Earlier this month, the department reported elevated levels of SO2 and particulates in several communities of the Big Island, with one period on April 3 and 4 when the three-hour average exceeded a state air quality standard of 0.5 parts per million. In Pahala, the average on April 3 topped 0.665 ppm, while on April 4, the average was 0.586 ppm.

The department also reported that the particulate levels exceeded state standards in Kona on April 15 and 16, topping 36 grams per cubic meter. The standard is 35 grams/cubic meter.

The Hawaiian Volcano Observatory reported that the most recent measurement of SO2 emissions from the Kilauea summit was on Monday, when the data showed 1,150 metric tons being released through the day. Around the observatory, SO2 concentrations topped 1 ppm for two hours, peaking at 5 ppm.

A white plume and SO2 emissions were continuing to spew from a vent in the Halemaumau Crater that has erupted twice in the past month, the observatory said. Along the east rift below the Puu Oo eruption site, there was a continuing flow of lava that ran into the ocean at two sites, at Waikupanaha and Ki.

Volcanoes Park Superintendent Cindy Orlando ordered the closure of the park Wednesday until conditions improve. The closure forced the evacuation of around 2,000 people from the park facilities, including the Volcano House overlooking Halemaumau.

Northeast winds normally blow the fumes out to sea. But light winds allow the gas to hover over the volcano. Hawaii County Civil Defense says wind conditions aren’t forecast to change until Saturday.

Maui weather analyst Glenn James said a cold front pushing across the North Pacific from the northwest forced a high-pressure ridge close to the islands, shutting down the trade winds. As the front moves off, the high-pressure system should move away as well, allowing the trade winds to return sometime over the weekend.

Until then, he said, Maui County residents can expect the humid and voggy conditions to remain.

At Kahului Airport, winds through the day were reported light, with an onshore breeze bumping up to 14 mph at about 2 p.m.

For residents and visitors feeling respiratory reactions from the vog, the Maui health office recommended remaining indoors with air conditioning if possible, avoiding vigorous activities, keeping medications on hand and drinking plenty of fluids with a suggestion that warm liquids may help to keep mucus loose.

Information is available from the Department of Health at (808) 586-4200 or the American Lung Association at

Article Photos

Molten lava flows into the ocean at the Waikupanaha entry along the coastline below the Kilauea eruption on Wednesday.




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