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UH Study Reveals Estimated Health Care Costs of Vog

Posted May 8, 2015, 02:34 PM HST Updated May 8, 2015, 03:01 PM HST
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Researchers at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa have released the findings of a study estimating health care costs associated with vog emitted from Kīlauea Volcano.

The report, conducted by Timothy Halliday, John Lynham and Áureo de Paula, found that volcanic emissions since March 2008 accounted for an increase in health care costs of $6,277,204.  The study also indicated that a minute deviation in volcanic particulate pollution can result in a 2 – 3% rise in emergency room (ER) charges for pulmonary-related ailments. The effects of vog on pulmonary-related emergency-room admissions were found to be the highest among children, five years old and younger.

The results of the study were determined by analyzing the correlation between 12 years of data on ER admissions and charges in Hawai‘i from the Hawai‘i Health Information Corporation (HHIC), as well data from air quality monitoring stations in the state from the Department of Health.

Currently, emissions from Kīlauea waver on a daily basis between 500 and 1,500 tons of sulfur dioxide, or SO2, which forms the particulate matter in the air known as “vog.” According to the EPA, the standard for safety in industrial pollution is 0.25 tons of SO2. The study noted that sulfur dioxide itself from Kīlauea actually has little impact on health care costs.  The impact occurs when it forms into particulate matter.

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Overall, the study found strong evidence indicating vog pollution increases pulmonary-related hospital visits.  Researchers noted two variables could not be accounted for in determining the results: traffic pollution and people staying indoors to avoid vog conditions.

The full study, entitled “Vog: Using Volcanic Eruptions to Estimate the Health Costs of Particulates and SO2” can be reviewed online.

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