Tourism encouraged amid toxic gas

LIHUE — While many Hawaii Island residents are living with toxic fumes and evacuating their homes as lava spits out of fissures and into the sea, Hawaii’s governor says it’s OK to visit parts of Hawaii Island and the rest of the chain.

“The experts are telling us there is no danger from the eruptions to anyone outside the areas that have been evacuated,” Ige said.

He continued: “There is no threat of a tsunami. Air quality is being closely studied and is of most concern in the immediate area inside where the volcanic activity is taking place.”

A toxic steam cloud made of acid and glass shards hung in the sky over the island Sunday after molten lava from Kilauea Volcano’s eruption met the ocean after more than two weeks of activity.

At least 23 reported fissures have been leaking lava into residential neighborhoods and national forests and the rate of sulfur dioxide gas coming from the fissures has tripled, according to Hawaii County.

As of Monday afternoon, the federal Environmental Protection Agency confirmed 16 personnel on Hawaii Island and one representative working with Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA) operations in Honolulu.

Meanwhile, EPA has stated Hawaii Island has the highest rate of sulfur dioxide emission in the nation, a distinction established before the May eruptions of Kilauea Volcano.

The emission levels were “1,000 times greater than the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) definition of a major pollution source,” according to Elizabeth Tam, who reported on the issue in a 2016 edition the scientific journal Environmental International.

“It’s the volcano,” said EPA spokesman Dean Higuchi. “The volcano puts the Big Island highest in the nation for SO2 (sulfur dioxide) values.”

This was before the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory on Sunday issued a new air quality warning because of the erupting volcano.

The warning is due to lava haze, which is created when hot lava comes into contact with cold seawater.

The contact produces a dense white plume of steam laced with hydrochloric acid and glass particles, which is now occurring on the island’s southeast coast.

Cathy Santy, a guest services representative at outdoor tour company Hawaii Forest and Trail in in Kailua-Kona, said she and two other colleagues were worried about the long-term effects of breathing sulfur dioxide, hydrogen sulfide and ash even before Kilauea began erupting May 3.

“A lot of us have headaches,” Santy said. “We’re just tired — muscle aches, headaches.”

Josh Green, an emergency room physician and Democratic state senator, said he treated several patients last week — from the Pahoa evacuation center to the opposite side of Hawaii island in Hawi — for symptoms related to the eruption.

Green said about one-third of the 150 patients he treated over three days complained of symptoms related to air quality.

But Green, who along with others at the University of Nevada, Reno, studied the health effects of breathing in the sulfur dioxide emissions, said the patients should be fine in the long term.

“We did not find there was a correlation to long-term lung disease,” he said. “But quality of life is affected very significantly if you have headaches, runny eyes, burning throat.”

Ige said the state’s foremost concern is the residential communities affected by the volcano and visitors can be assured that the “volcanic activity has having no effect whatsoever on the other islands.”

“Visitors can book their trips comfortable in the knowledge that their vacation experience will provide all the enjoyment they expect when coming to our beautiful islands,” Ige said. “All of Hawaii is open for business.”


Associated Press contributed to this story

  1. Wally Robert May 22, 2018 3:01 am Reply

    The governor’s first concern is for the welfare of the tourist industry. A decline in tourism means a decline in tax dollars flowing into state coffers. The health of state coffers is paramount!

  2. andy May 22, 2018 1:44 pm Reply

    One of the more classic funny headlines I’ve seen in a while. Mr. Robert’s comment is straight to the point.

  3. No_They_Didn't May 22, 2018 4:43 pm Reply

    1000 times more polluted. That means someone can collapse and die by breathing in the air. Is the kona winds blowing NE direction?

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