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10 Tips: How to Protect Yourself From Vog and Ash

May 10, 2018, 1:09 PM HST
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Hawaii Volcanoes National Park courtesy photo.

In addition to the dangers of Kīlauea’s scorching lava, recent activity has also produced volcanic ash and dangerous gases, like sulfur dioxide (SO2), that impact health, according to the Hawaiʻi Chapter of the American Lung Association.

As the lava flow from Kīlauea Volcano on Hawai‘i Island continues and southerly winds occasionally prevail, vog conditions and the presence of SO2 in the air may increase and fluctuate in various areas of the state.

While these intermittent conditions do not pose a public health threat in areas beyond the evacuation zone, they have raised concerns about respiratory health and questions about precautionary actions for Hawai‘i residents.

SO2 can cause a range of harmful effects on the lungs and can cause respiratory problems such as bronchitis and asthma attacks. It irritates the nose, throat and airways to cause coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, or a tight feeling around the chest. The effects of SO2 are felt very quickly.

Sulfur dioxide, and all air pollutants, are especially harmful to children, older adults and people with lung disease such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema. Exposure to bad air can trigger asthma attacks and cause wheezing, coughing, and more.

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The Hawai‘i Department of Health is encouraging residents and visitors to access the Hawaii Interagency Vog Information Dashboard at  for the most comprehensive and up-to-date online information on vog and SO2 from volcanic activity in Hawai‘i.

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DOH is also working on positioning additional SO2 and particulate monitoring equipment around the eruption site. Once the equipment is up and running, DOH air quality data from the site will become available online for the public.

The result of a partnership with the International Volcanic Health Hazard Network (IVHHN), County of Hawai‘i, state and federal agencies, the Vog Information Dashboard provides complete, clear and current information on the health effects of vog, how to protect yourself, vog and wind forecasts, air quality, water catchment systems, acid rain, air purifiers and advice for visitors. This one-stop-shop includes all relevant information in nine primary areas of interest.

The site also provides a friendly community forum for questions and discussion about vog and SO2 at Vog Talk. Go online to submit a question or join an group discussion. Vog Talk is a public forum for people to share their stories, concerns and useful information about vog and its impacts.

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Hawai‘i residents and visitors are advised to be prepared and aware of the surrounding conditions, and how they feel or may react to vog in the air. In the event of vog conditions, precautionary measures are advised.

In addition, during the drawdown of the lava column, rockfalls from the steep enclosing walls of the Overlook crater vent impact the lake and produce small ash clouds. These clouds are very dilute and result in dustings of ash (particles smaller than 2 mm) downwind.

Should steam-driven explosions begin, ash clouds will rise to greater elevations above ground. Minor ashfall could occur over much wider areas, even up to several tens of miles from Halemaʻumaʻu. In 1924, ash may have reached as high as 20,000 feet above sea level. Small amounts of fine ash from these explosions fell over a wide area as far north as North Hilo (Hakalau), in lower Puna, and as far south as Waiohinu.

10 VOG & ASH PROTECTION TIPS FROM HAWAI‘I DOH & LUNG ASSOCIATION

  1. Stay indoors and close windows and doors. If an air conditioner is used, set it to recirculate.
  2. Reduce outdoor activities that cause heavy breathing. Avoiding outdoor activity and exercise during vog conditions can reduce exposure and minimize health risks.
  3. Sensitive groups include children, the elderly and individuals with pre-existing respiratory conditions including asthma, bronchitis, emphysema, and chronic lung and heart disease.
  4. Be prepared and pack all needed medications, equipment ahead of time. Always keep medications on hand and readily available. Daily prescribed medications, should be taken on schedule and may provide protection from the effects of SO2.
  5. Dust masks will not help filter out SO2. Do whatever it takes to avoid exposure.
  6. If your breathing becomes challenging, get medical attention immediately.
  7. Do not smoke and avoid second-hand smoke.
  8. Drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration.
  9. Heed warnings by county and state emergency management officials. Follow all evacuation orders.
  10. Have family emergency plans prepared and ready. Plan ahead and know where to go.

“While we are all watching the updates on the Kīlauea eruptions, it’s important to be vigilant to your health and safety no matter where you live in Hawaiʻi,” said Kahala Howser, executive director of the American Lung Association in Hawaiʻi. “We’ve been fortunate to have trade winds push the vog out to sea the past few days, but be aware of the changes that could potentially affect the entire state. With the elevated levels of sulfur dioxide, it’s particularly important to monitor your exposure and that of those around you. Be safe.”

For more information about air pollution, go online.

The Interagency Vog Dashboard is a partnership between the International Volcanic Health Hazard Network (Durham University, UK), Hawai‘i State Department of Health, the USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, Hawaiʻi County Civil Defense, the National Park Service, County of Hawaiʻi (Mayor’s Office), CSAV (University of Hawaiʻi) and the US Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency.

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