East Hawaii News

British Council Funds New Big Island Vog Study

February 11, 2015, 5:01 PM HST
* Updated February 11, 5:07 PM
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A new study led by Dr. Claire Horwell, Director of the International Volcanic Health Hazard Network and a researcher at Durham University in the United Kingdom, is examining how individuals in downwind areas of Kilauea Volcano are coping with volcanic gas emissions, more casually known as vog.

The study, being conducted in coordination with the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, aims to understand how vog effects individuals while reaching across multiple agencies, organizations, and communities to ensure that official advice about how to deal with these conditions contains experience and knowledge.

Vog is pollution that is formed from acidic gases and particles that are released by active volcanoes. These gasses are primarily composed of sulfur dioxide gas and its oxidation products, like sulfate aerosol.

With Kilauea in its 33rd year of eruption, sulfur dioxide continues to result in vog, posing challenges to communities, agriculture, and infrastructure on the Big Island and in areas across the state.

Vog is sometimes seen as a visible haze or as a sulfurous smell or taste. Exposure to vog leads to reports of a variety of symptoms, including coughing, wheezing, sore throats, and headaches. Both the Hawai’i State Department of Health and the American Lung Association offer vog protective measures such as staying indoors and limiting physical activity when vog level are elevated.

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Dr. Horwell said that she is investigating how communities in Hawai’i use the advice of officials and if individuals or groups have developed their own strategies for coping with and protecting themselves from vog conditions.

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“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,” Dr. Horwell said.

In addition to being helpful to Hawai’i, the study funded by the British Council under the Research Links initiative is also relevant internationally. The UK government, for example, can learn from the Hawai’i study as preparation continues for the potential effects of Icelandic eruptions.

Results from the study will be available online when completed through the International Volcanic Health Hazard Network. IVHHN serves as a clearing house for information on the health impacts of volcanic eruptions and provides detailed information on volcanic gas and particle impacts.

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As part of the study community members, as well as agency focus groups, have been conducted. In the coming weeks, Dr. Horwell plans to conduct surveys in various communities that are regularly affected by vog, including Volcano, Pahala, Ocean View, and South Kona.

Interested residents can record how they cope with vog on the “Vog Talk” Facebook page or by calling (808) 967-8809. Residents are also encouraged to check the Facebook page or call to determine when the community surveys will be conducted.

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