Vog a health concern for Hawaii Island - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Vog a health concern for Hawaii Island

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Ina Campbell Ina Campbell
Quince Mento Quince Mento
Hawaii County Mayor Billy Kenoi Hawaii County Mayor Billy Kenoi
Bernadette Longo Bernadette Longo
Dr. Elizabeth Tam Dr. Elizabeth Tam

BIG ISLAND (KHNL) - The Big Island's biggest attraction is also a health concern for Hawaii residents.

While no one can stop the vog, efforts are underway to limit exposure and uncover the harmful effects of this hazard.

The Island of Hawaii is home to spectacular scenic sights, from waterfalls, to fragrant flower filled settings. But one of the biggest draws of the Big Island - is Kilauea Volcano.

But as this volcano rumbles and spews out lava, some are grumbling about the very air filling with vog.

"You can smell it, taste it, feel it - when it is is here, you are very sensitive to it," said Kapoho resident, Ina Campbell.

This is more than just an inconvenience, vog cuts into the quality of island life.

"People seem to get flu like symptoms and don't seem to be able to get rid of it," added Campbell.

The plume of steam and gas that forms where the lava flow meets the sea, is not just an attraction to visitors, but it is a reminder to residents of the vog being pumped into the air.

"Its something we have to watch 24 hours a day, monitor 24 hours a day," said Quince Mento, with Hawaii County Civil Defense.

Civil Defense and other agencies monitor levels of sulphur dioxide. If those levels are high, communities are alerted by radio, automated phone calls and even emails.

But what the county can't do is answer some important questions about vog.

"Is it going to get worse? How long is going to last? Simple questions," said Billy Kenoi, the mayor of Hawaii County.

It has been over 25 years since Kilauea began erupting, and there are still unanswered questions over vog's impacted on health.

"We're starting to see vog's impact on our vulnerable population - seniors, children and those with medical conditions. Asthma being one of those," said Kenoi.

Bernadette Longo is just one researcher working on some of the answers. She has been studying vog for the past 6 years.

"The medical records are telling a story," said Longo.

And what they reveal is asthma rates are NOT higher in voggy areas. Scientists have come to the conclusion that vog doesn't cause asthma.

"We didn't find a correlation with asthma rates, it was very surprising to us. We did find, though, that if you already had asthma, then living for instance in Kona or Ka'u, the vog definitely makes the symptoms worse," said Dr. Elizabeth Tam, with the John A. Burns School of Medicine.

And in the future, researchers hope to reveal more details of this hazardous Hawaii phenomenon.

"It was unfortunate that it took 20 years for the research to start, now we're figuring out some answers," said Longo.

If you would like to more closely track vog in hawaii, there are a number of vog monitoring websites, goto www.hiso2index.info for the latest information.