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5 Tips to Protect Your Lungs From Volcanic Ash

May 9, 2018, 11:55 AM HST · Updated May 11, 8:06 AM
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Ash column rises from the Overlook crater at the summit of Kīlauea Volcano. HVO’s interpretation is that the explosion was triggered by a rockfall from the steep walls of Overlook crater. The photograph was taken at 8:29 a.m. HST on Wednesday, May 9, 2018, from the Jaggar Museum overlook. The explosion was short-lived. Geologists examining the ash deposits on the rim of Halema‘uma‘u crater found fresh lava fragments hurled from the lava lake. This explosion was not caused by the interaction of the lava lake with the water table. When the ash cleared from the crater about an hour after the explosion, geologists were able to observe the lava lake surface, which is still above the water table. PC: US Geological Survey 5.9.18

The Kīlauea volcanic eruption not only produces dangerous lava flows, but also produces dangerous air toxins, like sulfur dioxide, that harms health, according to information compiled by the Hawaiʻi Chapter of the American Lung Association.

Tips to protect your lungs from volcanic ash:

  1. Reduce outdoor activities that cause heavy breathing. Avoiding outdoor activity and exercise during vog conditions can reduce exposure and minimize health risks. This is especially important for sensitive groups such as children, the elderly, and individuals with pre-existing respiratory conditions including asthma, bronchitis, emphysema, and chronic lung and heart disease.
  2. Stay indoors and close windows and doors. If an air conditioner is used, set it to recirculate.
  3. Always keep medications on hand and readily available. Daily prescribed medications, should be taken on schedule and may provide protection from the effects of sulfur dioxide.  Contact a doctor as soon as possible if any health problems develop.  Do not smoke and avoid second-hand smoke.
  4. Drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration.
  5. Have family emergency plans prepared and ready. Heed warnings by county and state emergency management officials.

Additional Tips from the American Lung Association, Hawaiʻi Chapter:

  • Make sure you have an adequate supply of medication in event of evacuation. If needed, get refills.
  • Be prepared and pack all needed medications, equipment ahead of time. Your health and safety are most important.
  • Follow all evacuation orders.
  • Do whatever it takes to avoid exposure.
  • Plan ahead and know where to go.
  • If your breathing becomes more challenging, get medical attention immediately.

“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. 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,” says Kahala Howser, Executive Director of the American Lung Association in Hawaiʻi. ”With the elevated levels of sulfur dioxide, it’s particularly important to monitor your exposure and that of those around you. Be safe.”

Sulfur dioxide 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 sulfur dioxide 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.

The American Lung Association urges those with chronic disease to be prepared with some tips listed above.  The Lung Association and the Department of Health advise Hawaiʻi Island residents and visitors to also get advice and updates from the County of Hawaiʻi. Updates including civil defense messages and alerts are provided on the County of Hawaiʻi’s website.

For more information about air pollution, visit www.lung.org/our-initiatives/healthy-air/.

Vog Dashboard offers comprehensive information and advice on volcanic health hazards

As the lava flow from Kilauea volcano on Hawai‘i Island continues and southerly winds occasionally prevail, vog conditions and the presence of sulfur dioxide (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.

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

SPONSORED VIDEO

The result of a partnership with the International Volcanic Health Hazard Network, 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 to the forum website to submit a question or join an online 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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