Kilauea volcano eruption health impact continues after two years

Residents around the Kilauea mountain range in Hawaii that witnessed a volcano erupt in 2008 for the first time in 25 years; continue to face health problems due to the volcanic eruption.

Scientists are still working to alleviate effects of noxious gases released from the eruption in Hawaii.

Volcanic air pollution or “vog” occurs due to the release of Sulphur-di-oxide or So2 from active volcanoes and has deadly effects on nearby inhabitants. Kilauea Volcano has been active for past 25 years, with its first eruption in 1983 and most recent on March 29, 2008. An alarming three-fold increase in SO2 discharge happened in 2008.

Bernadette Longo, who has 8 years’ experience in “vog” research, published her findings in Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health in September 2010. She is an assistant professor at the University's Orvis School of Nursing and studies nature of volcanic air pollution, its associated health risks and the effects on people of Ka’u Island by comparing health data prior and post volcanic eruption. 

"An escalation of headaches, severe sore throats, cough and acute airway problems ( respiratory problems requiring breathing treatments and emergency hospitalization) occurred three months after the eruption," Bernadette Longo, an assistant professor at  the University Orvis School of Nursing and studies, reported in the September issue of the Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health. Longo has studied the health risks and the effects on people of Ka'u island in Hawaii.

“The high risk groups were children, adolescents, elderly, smokers, and asthma and emphysema patients. Children incline to breathe through their mouths, which does not filter the air-borne harmful substances from reaching their respiratory tract," the study said.

Researchers have warned of SO2 penetration into Kilauea schools and hospitals when they open their windows or have open ventilation or in the absence  of or discontinuing air-conditioners. Simple precautions namely, closing windows, avoiding direct vog exposure during heavy-risk times from 7:00pm to 10:00 am everyday will make it safe for Kilauea community to circumvent health risks. However, it is safe for residents to conduct normal activity during afternoons when trade winds disburse the vog effect, the study said.

Longo works with local agencies and doctors in educating the Ka'u community on volcanic air pollution risks. Schools installed air-conditioners and ventilation systems in the hospitals were improved.  Longo and her team are waiting for funding to implement additional improvements planned for the Ka’u community.

Longo’s research finds support from the federal and Hawaii state. The findings form this research was instrumental in bringing more doctors and nurses for healthcare. A special task force was created in House of representatives to study this research.

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