A new study shows health complaints spiked in the Big Island community downwind of Kilauea’s summit after the volcano began spewing more sulfur dioxide from a second simultaneous eruption in 2008.
Kilauea has been erupting continuously since 1983, but its sulfur dioxide emissions tripled when a second eruption began at its summit in 2008. The additional toxic gas has led to more volcanic fog, or “vog,” which is created when sulfur dioxide mixes with dust and sunlight.
University of Nevada-Reno assistant professor Bernadette Longo, who has been conducting research on vog for eight years, said those who have been exposed to Kilauea’s vog are at greater risk of developing acute bronchitis than who haven’t.
Longo led the group of researchers on the study, which was published in the Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health last month. Her team compared records from clinics in the Kau district for 3½ months before and after the second eruption.
The study examined records from clinics in Naalehu and Ocean View and from Kau Hospital in Pahala.
They found the clinics saw three times as many headaches and twice as many severe sore throats after emissions increased. Patients also were six times more likely to be suffering from serious respiratory problems requiring immediate breathing treatments or a transfer to a hospital for emergency care, the study said.
Longo said children and adolescents were likely to be the most sensitive to sulfur dioxide, but the elderly, smokers and those who already have asthma and emphysema were also likely to suffer from exposure.
She said people can lower the health risks posed by vog if they take precautions.
“It is fairly safe for schoolchildren and residents to exercise, go fishing or play outside in the afternoons, when the trade winds keep the vog out of the area,” Longo said Tuesday in a statement issued by her university.
The study included assistance from Nevada epidemiology and biostatistics professor Wei Yang; Dr. Joshua B. Green, a state senator who practices medicine at the Kau Hospital and Rural Health Care Clinic; and Ocean View Family Health Clinic advanced practice nurses Frederick and Vickie Crosby.