Vog is a form of air pollution that results when sulfur dioxide and other gases and particles emitted by an erupting volcano react with oxygen and moisture in the presence of sunlight. The word is a portmanteau of the words “volcanic” and “smog“. The term is in common use in the Hawaiian islands, where the Kīlauea volcano, on Hawaiʻi Island (aka “The Big Island”), has been erupting continuously since 1983. Based on June 2008 measurements, Kīlauea emits 2,000 – 4,000 tons of sulfur dioxide every day.
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.
Like smog, the presence of vog reduces visibility. Moisture in the air causes vog particles to enlarge, decreasing visibility still further. On the Island of Hawai`i, people often turn their headlights on during daylight hours when driving in vog, and vog sometimes limits visibility for air traffic.
KEWALO BASIN (KHNL) – Months of heavy vog might have some wondering what the long term affects the sulfur oxide in the air has on our health.
A respiratory expert shared information on a study of volcanic pollution. The results might come as a surprise to many.
Leading the ongoing research is Doctor Elizabeth Tam. She believes volcanic pollution or vog can trigger an asthma attack in people including children already diagnosed with the condition.
“We don’t think volcanic air polution actually causes asthma,” said Dr. Tam.
The March eruption of Kilauea’s Halemaumau crater sent large amounts of sulfur dioxide into the air making for more voggy days this year. Not ideal for photographs, jogging and other outdoor activities, but the vog provides the perfect lab for research.
“There have been times we’ve been in the schools studying, doing our thing and the air polution is much more than before,” Tam said.
The group of children were first examined before they were teens. Voggy days had the usual effects on them as they would on those who were otherwise healthy.
“We get more of the upper respiratory effects nose, eyes, stinging throat etc., but it doesn’t appear to be asthma,” said Tam.
Researchers including Doctor Tam, will continue the study on the select group of children which began six years ago.
“We’re actually studying the long term effects of the kids, so we continue to study the children which is good,” she said.
So far vog does not appear to be the cause of asthma in the select group of big island children.
But one thing is certain, island residents could be living with vog for years to come.
The idea is to study the children as they grow up. They were as young as 12 to 14 when research began.
The plan is to monitor their respiratory conditions until they are 18.