The Kilauea volcano in Hawaii has been erupting for much of the month of May, destroying homes and property on the Big Island, while spewing toxic gas. The volcanic eruptions have also been accompanied by earthquakes, raising concerns about possible tsunamis. As if that weren’t bad enough, reports indicate a haze of volcanic fog, or vog, has descended on nearby islands, posing health risks for residents.
Volcanic Fog Health Warning
US Weather Service officials reporting from Guam claim airborne debris has traveled from the Kilauea volcano eruption across the Pacific in a volcanic haze. The vog has settled in on other islands of the region, including the Marshall Islands, Guam, and the islands of Micronesia.
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Even though these islands are thousands of miles away from the Kilauea volcano, the vog, comprised of sulfur dioxide, dust, and other volcanic pollutants, is still posing health threats. Sulfur dioxide is the main concern.
This gas doesn’t just smell bad, it’s also incredibly toxic to humans and plant life. Exposure to sulfur dioxide can lead to respiratory disease, preterm birth for infants, and even death. Health officials have told residents to avoid breathing in the dangerous haze filled with volcanic debris, especially if they have pre-existing respiratory problems.
The vog is also causing headaches and reducing visibility, making driving dangerous. Those already vulnerable to respiratory issues have been urged to stay inside. There isn’t much that can be done other than waiting for clean air.
Guam’s Homeland Security office issued a statement reading, “Residents with respiratory health problems should stay indoors and avoid being outdoors when haze is seen. Mariners and pilots should be aware of lower visibilities caused by this haze.”
Vog and Other Concerns Across Hawaii
In addition to the toxic gas and molten lava, the United State Geological Survey (USGS) has warned that ash will continue to erupt from the Kilauea volcano.
“Winds have weakened and shifted in direction so that ash fall could occur in communities around the summit area,” the USGS reported. “Additional explosive events that could produce minor amounts of ash fall downwind are possible at any time. Volcanic gas emissions at the summit remain high.”
Volcanic ash can cause respiratory problems and eye irritation, while destroying crops and other plant life.
Monday evening, the USGS warned of the dangerous vog spreading across Hawaii, “Volcanic gas emissions remain very high from the fissure eruptions. If a forecast shift in wind direction occurs today, widespread vog could occur on the Island of Hawaii.”
The National Weather Service also issued a warning, “Low level winds will remain out of the east-southeast through Tuesday, then shift back out of the east Wednesday. These winds will support volcanic emissions and ashfall potentially impacting other locations on the Big Island, such as the Hilo and Kona Districts.
“In addition to this potential over the Big Island, some emissions could reach the smaller islands through the day Tuesday.”
Hawaii’s residents are also concerned about earthquakes and tsunamis, which often go hand in hand with volcanic eruptions. Since the Kilauea volcano had an enormous eruption on May 3, 2,000 earthquakes have been recorded near the Big Island. On Monday, a 4.1 magnitude earthquake was recorded by the USGS, but no tsunami warning was issued.
In addition to the toxic vog, residents have been warned about laze, which occurs when the lava reaches the ocean. When the lava hits the ocean, it sends volcanic glass particles and hydrochloric acid into the air as a white plume. Locals have been told to avoid the white plumes that might rise up from the ocean, as the corrosive acid can cause damage to eyes, skin, and the respiratory system. In the past, laze has even been deadly.
The Hawaiian Volcano Observatory warned, “This hot, corrosive gas mixture caused two deaths immediately adjacent to the coastal entry point in 2000, when seawater washed across recent and active lava flows.” They have recommended that residents stay away from the coast where the lava in entering the ocean.
Kilauea Volcano Eruption
Molten lava from the Kilauea volcano has been seeping out of the ground on Hawaii’s Big Island. The volcanic eruption is hitting the Leilani Estates community especially hard. The Hawaii County Civil Defense has asked residents to evacuate to avoid becoming trapped by the lava, which is seeping out of fissures, or cracks, in the earth.
The lava is fast moving and completely destructive. One particularly explosive fissure, Fissure 8, has been violently spewing lava. The bursts of lava are being blown out of two fountains in the fissure. Some of the lava explosions have reached 200 feet in height.
So far, the eruption of the Kilauea volcano has caused enormous damage to property. The volcano has destroyed 41 homes, forcing 200 residents to flee to emergency shelters. Since the initial eruptions, residents have been posting heart wrenching videos on social media of their homes being consumed by lava and flames.
How Hawaii Was Made
Volcanic eruptions, although devastating, are not new to Hawaii. In fact, it’s how Hawaii was formed. Hundreds and hundreds of volcanic eruptions from a vent in the seafloor eventually cooled and built up the Hawaiian Islands. All of the islands of Hawaii were formed by volcanic activity over more 30 million years.
The Hawaiian Islands aren’t just formed by volcanoes, they actually rely on the volcanic activity for life. If one of the islands moves to far afield from the original vent in the earth’s crust, it will be unable to tap into the flow of molten lava. When this happens, the island will begin eroding and eventually sink back into the ocean.
In Hawaii, the delicate balance between the creative and destructive forces of nature are always on display. One local man who posted a video of his destroyed home on social media acknowledged this.
Although heartbroken, he said the risk of volcanic activity is always a possibility in Hawaii, “You know that when you come in. I knew that when I moved here. This was a gamble that everybody takes. Maybe I’ve lost.”