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Hawaii News

Website to centralize Big Island air quality reporting

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Lava enters the Pacific in Lower Puna, sending up a plume of “laze” containing particles of glass as well as hydrochloric acid. Laze quickly dissipates, but “it could cause lifelong lung damage because of all the particles that get into your lungs,” said Hawaii County Civil Defense spokeswoman Janet Snyder.

PAHOA, Hawaii >> Noxious emissions of sulfur dioxide from the eruption activity in Pahoa have caused persistent respiratory problems for displaced Leilani Estates resident David Hess, who has asthma.

“The breathing is hard. … It’s really uncomfortable,” Hess, 58, said Monday afternoon as he sat at one of the fold-up tables at a makeshift center dubbed Pu‘unohua o Puna, where volunteers provide community support to lava evacuees, including hot meals, free clothing and nonperishable goods.

Hess, an Army veteran, said he’s experiencing increased tightness in his chest, throat irritation and a burning sensation in his nasal passages. “It’s like that constantly.”

Hess evacuated his home May 3, the first day of the eruption, and is staying at a home in Hawaiian Shores. He’s using his inhaler more frequently as his asthma has worsened due to the toxic fumes.

Hawaii County, Hawaii County Civil Defense, the state Department of Health and the Environmental Protection Agency are working on a website where residents like Hess can check levels of sulfur dioxide being measured at air monitoring stations throughout Hawaii island.

Air monitoring stations have been installed around the island by the EPA, U.S. Geological Survey, Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park and the Health Department, and the website will allow the public to look at readings from the various monitors in one location.

Janet Snyder, Hawaii County Civil Defense spokeswoman, said the site is still being worked on and might go live shortly.

As lava from the fountaining fissure 8 remains active, it continues to feed a flow that entered the ocean at Kapoho Bay on Sunday night, prompting renewed Civil Defense warnings about “laze.”

Laze is formed when hot lava hits the ocean, emitting hydrochloric acid and steam with fine glass particles into the air. If nearby, the corrosive gas mixture causes irritation to eyes, skin and lungs. Though laze looks harmless and quickly dissipates, “it could cause lifelong lung damage because of all the particles that get into your lungs because it’s like glass,” Snyder said.

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