A potentially hazardous plume of volcanic gas has not only enveloped most of Hawaii’s Big Island with a smelly haze, but has spread far across the Pacific to portions of Micronesia, the Marianas, and even Guam. The National Weather Service cautions people in the distant islands of Chuuk, Pohnpei, Kosrae, and Majuro that “residents with respiratory health problems should stay indoors and minimize time outdoors when haze is seen. Mariners and pilots should be aware of slightly lower visibilities caused by the haze.” At the National Weather Service office on Tiyan, Guam, meteorologists there also warned of the volcanic haze through Special Weather Statements. While warning residents of the hazards of the volcanic gasses, the National Weather Service office said shifting winds should help conditions improve there. “Haze concentrations will decrease as central Pacific winds redirect haze farther to the north and away from Micronesia,” the Guam National Weather Service office wrote in their last Special Weather Statement on the issue.
Closer to ground zero on Hawaii’s Big Island, numerous government agencies continue to warn residents and tourists of the airborne hazards there.
This morning, the National Weather Service office in Honolulu, Hawaii reports that Pele’s Hair is falling in the Pahoa area of the Big Island. Pele’s Hair is sharp, thin strands of volcanic glass fibers carried on the wind. Similar to fiberglass, they warn, “avoid touching it or getting it in your eyes; it can cause injury to eyes and lungs i breathed in. Pele’s Hair is abrasive; it if lands on your windshield, do not use your wipers to clear it.”
Hawaii County Civil Defense warns that high levels of sulfur dioxide (SO2) exist around the erupting fissures in eastern Hawaii. “Take action to limit exposure to ash and volcanic gases by staying indoors or leaving the area. The Department of Health recommends limiting outside activities and stay indoors if you have breathing issues. If possible, close the windows and use your air conditioner. N-95 masks that were distributed are for ash particulate and do NOT protect from gasses or vapors, including SO2”, the Civil Defense warned in a recent community update.
Scientists have warned about the dangers associated with SO2 since the eruption began. Sulfur dioxide affects human health when it is breathed in. It irritates the nose, throat, and airways to cause coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, or a tight feeling around the chest. The effects of sulfur dioxide are felt very quickly and most people would feel the worst symptoms in 10 or 15 minutes after breathing it in. Those most at risk of developing problems if they are exposed to sulfur dioxide are people with asthma or similar conditions. Extreme concentrations of sulfur dioxide can be deadly if inhaled. When combined with other substances additional hazards can be created; as an example, rain falling through a sulfur dioxide plume could produce an acid rainfall. Sulfur dioxide is invisible to the human eye, but when it reacts with other gases, aerosol particles can form to cause haze, and according to NASA in extreme widespread events, climate cooling.
Hazardous concentrations of these fumes are found throughout Hawaii’s Big Island, creating an uptick in hospital emergency room and doctors office visits even on the northern and southern sides of the island’s west coast. In Kona, air monitoring service PurpleAir says “everyone may begin to experience health effects” from the bad air, above and beyond those with compromised respiratory systems.
Ash is also falling from occasional explosive events at Kilauea’s summit. NOAA’s Volcanic Ash Advisory Center continues to issue updates cautioning aviation interests around Hawaii of the risk of ash. More substantial eruptions can also impact cars and jet aircraft, although the explosions this morning have been relatively small. Volcanic ash, even in small quantities, can do harm on the surface. A light coating on car or home windows can scratch them; great care should be used when removing ash. Ash entering water catchment systems can contaminate their contents, clog filters, and/or do harm to pumps. For the threats on the ground, the National Weather Service has launched new products to keep residents and tourists advised on the ash hazards.
At the point where lava is entering the ocean, a toxic plume of hydrochloric gas and glass particles are also entering the air. Due to that threat, many government agencies, including Civil Defense and USGS, urge people to stay away from the ocean entry of lava.