Hawaii residents encouraged to participate in new vog study

Side-by-side comparison of Kilauea without and with vog (Photo: USGS)

A new study to examine how people who live downwind of Kilauea 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 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 Kilauea, now in its 33rd year of nearly continuous eruption, results in vog that continues to challenge communities, agriculture and infrastructure on Hawaii Island as well as across the state.

Communities downwind from Kilauea’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.

Horwell is investigating how Hawaii 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.

Horwell is currently meeting with community and agency focus groups on the Island of Hawaii and, in the coming weeks, will conduct surveys in a number of communities regularly affected by vog, including Volcano, Pahala, Ocean View and South Kona. Meeting information will be posted on the ‘Vog Talk’ Facebook page.

Hawaii residents are also encouraged to record how they cope with vog on the Facebook page.

Knowledge gained from the study in Hawaii, which has been funded by the British Council under the Research 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.

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