A new study to examine how people who live downwind of Kīlauea Volcano cope with volcanic gas emissions, or vog, is currently underway. Led by Dr. Claire Horwell, Director of the International Volcanic Health Hazard Network and a researcher at Durham University in the United Kingdom, the study is being conducted in cooperation with the U.S. Geological Survey’s Hawaiian Volcano Observatory. It will reach across multiple agencies, organizations, and communities in the State of Hawaii to help ensure that official advice about living with vog incorporates a wide range of experiences and knowledge.
Vog, the pollution formed from acidic gases and particles released by active volcanoes, is composed primarily of sulfur dioxide gas and its oxidation products, such as sulfate aerosol. Sulfur dioxide from Kīlauea, now in its 33rd year of nearly continuous eruption, results in vog that continues to challenge communities, agriculture and infrastructure on the Island of Hawai‘i, as well as across the State.
Communities downwind from Kīlauea’s active vents frequently experience vog as a visible haze or as a sulfurous smell or taste. People exposed to vog report a variety of symptoms, such as coughing, wheezing, sore throats, and headaches. The Hawaii State Department of Health and the American Lung Association offer advice on vog protection measures, such as staying indoors and limiting physical activity when vog levels are high.
According to Dr. Horwell, she is investigating how Hawai‘i communities use this advice and if they have developed their own strategies for protecting themselves from vog. “We’re working with State and county agencies with the end goal of providing consistent online advice, an informative pamphlet on vog exposure and protection, and updated guidance on how to access resources about vog,” she said.
Knowledge gained from the study in Hawaii, which has been funded by the British Council, under the Researcher Links initiative, will also be relevant internationally, not only in volcanically active regions but also farther afield, as volcanic gases can travel downwind for many miles. For example, UK government agencies can draw on the Hawaii study as they prepare for the potential effects of future Icelandic eruptions.
Outcomes of the vog study will eventually be available online through the International Volcanic Health Hazard Network. IVHHN serves as a clearing house for information on the health impacts of volcanic eruptions and provides detailed information on volcanic gas and particle impacts.
Dr. Horwell is currently meeting with community and agency focus groups on the Island of Hawai’i and, in the coming weeks, will conduct surveys in a number of communities regularly affected by vog, including Volcano, Pāhala, Ocean View and South Kona.
Hawai‘i residents are encouraged to record how they cope with vog on the ‘Vog Talk’ Facebook page established by Dr. Horwell.
Information on when and where community surveys will be conducted between now and the end of March is available on the ‘Vog Talk’ Facebook page or by calling 808-967-8809.