Toxic air prompted officials to close Hawaii’s Volcano National Park today and evacuate about 2,000 visitors. People in five neighborhoods and one school around Volcano National Park were also evacuated to hotels and an emergency Red Cross shelter in Hilo. People were warned to be aware of respiratory problems, as these conditions could deteriorate more rapidly in areas of heavier haze.
Exposure to invisible volcanic gas can aggravate pre-existing heart and breathing problems such as asthma. Residents of and visitors to Maui, especially those in the southern parts of the island like Kihei and Kula, should exercise with caution because the vog wraps around.
This choking haze is not caused by a forest fire or industrial pollution, but by light winds blowing gas emissions from Kilauea Volcano into the area. The Red Cross plans to keep their emergency shelter open until the winds shift back to the tradewind pattern. With Kona and calm winds expected through next week, the park could remain closed through the weekend.
Warning from the USGS
Air pollution caused by SO2 and other gases emitted from Kilauea are a frequent problem on the Island of Hawaii and for other islands in the chain when the winds shift, like they did today.
“Noxious sulfur dioxide gas and other pollutants emitted from Kilauea Volcano on the Island of Hawai`i react with oxygen and atmospheric moisture to produce volcanic smog (vog) and acid rain. Vog poses a health hazard by aggravating preexisting respiratory ailments, and acid rain damages crops and can leach lead into household water supplies. The U.S. Geological Survey’s Hawaiian Volcano Observatory is closely monitoring gas emissions from Kilauea and working with health professionals and local officials to better understand volcanic air pollution and to enhance public awareness of this hazard.”
Kilauea in Hawaii Mythology
Kilauea is the home of Pele, the Hawaiian volcano goddess. Hawaiian chants and oral traditions tell in veiled form of many eruptions fomented by an angry Pele before the first European, the missionary Rev. William Ellis, saw the summit in 1823. The caldera was the site of nearly continuous activity during the 19th century and the early part of this century. Since 1952 there have been 34 eruptions, and since January 1983 eruptive activity has been continuous along the east rift zone. All told, Kilauea ranks among the world’s most active volcanoes and may even top the list.
Find the National Park Service updates on Volcano at www.nps.gov .