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Saturday, November 22, 2014         

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No Oahu vog expected despite fiery Kilauea

Residents are still warned of high sulfur levels that could cause irritation and asthma

By Leila Fujimori

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Despite a recent dramatic increase in sulfur dioxide emissions, with up to 10,000 metric tons a day spewing from Kilauea Volcano's east rift zone, there's no vog in sight for Honolulu.

"There's nothing on the horizon where we would expect to see any vog on Kauai or Oahu," said Derek Wroe, lead forecaster for the National Weather Service.

Tradewinds blow 90 percent of the time from spring to fall, and this is a transition period from winter, when trades blow 50 percent of the time, Wroe said.

"It will spell less probability of getting volcanic emissions."

But that could change, and some people are more sensitive than others.

Dr. Jeffrey Kam, an allergist-immunologist, said some Honolulu residents may already be suffering from vog-related eye and throat irritation, sneezing and asthma flares.

"Monday was huge," he said. "I've never seen so many patients in a day."

He added: "With that new vent, my heart kind of dropped. It's going to get even more severe than when we had a two-week period (of vog). When we have more sulfur dioxide, it's going to be horrendous."

In Pahala, on the southern coast of the Big Island, sulfur dioxide levels were elevated at 8:30 a.m. yesterday to "unhealthy for sensitive groups" (0.21 to 1 part per million) for a 15-minute period, according to the Department of Health's air monitoring sites map. Otherwise, from 8:15 to 9:15 a.m., levels were moderate (0.11 to 0.2 parts per million), which is acceptable but may be a health concern for a small number of people.

Sulfur dioxide levels were good at all other times and sites yesterday.

"It's relatively not bad, considering how much emissions are being put out from the vent," said Wilfred Nagamine, chief of the Health Department Clean Air Branch.

"It's a little puzzling for us," he said. "Normally Pahala is in line with the Puu Oo vent. Maybe the plume is bypassing that particular area where our monitor is located. It must be, because we aren't picking up any real high readings."

Mardi Lane, a Hawaii Volcanoes National Park ranger, said the park is experiencing strong tradewinds and no vog. The section of Chain of Craters Road that is in the path of the plume of sulfur dioxide has been closed to keep visitors safe.

She warns visitors who may be tempted to ignore the closures that sulfur dioxide, in strong concentrations, burns eyes and skin, causes swelling of passages and "in the worst-case scenario closes down your ability to breathe."

The east rift zone emissions dropped yesterday to 4,400 tons, but still surpassed the 300- to 400-metric-ton average seen this past year and the long-term average of 1,700 metric tons, said geologist Janet Babb of the U.S. Geological Survey's Hawaiian Volcano Observatory.

The Kamoamoa Fissure, which began erupting on the east rift zone Saturday, continued yesterday, "still producing lava spatter that reaches a maximum height of 160 feet, more typically 100 to 130 feet," Babb said.






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