National Guard testing air quality in lower Puna for hazardous volcanic gases

PUNA, BIG ISLAND (HawaiiNewsNow) - Officials warn that hazardous fumes continue to be released from the fissures in the ground at Leilani Estates.

Residents of the subdivision were evacuated last week after the first fissure opened, but for now, they're being allowed back to check on their properties.

However, officials aren't allowing residents of another community, Lanipuna Gardens, access to their homes because of dangerous volcanic gases. To help monitor the situation, the National Guard is gathering air quality readings in both neighborhoods.

"What we're looking at is anything that's exceeding 1 ppm (parts per million) and we were well over 20 PPM at that level," said First Lt. Aaron Hew Len, of the Hawaii Army National Guard. He had just walked into a plume of billowing smoke rising out of cracks in the ground to get a reading.

Their instruments measure the amount of sulfur dioxide in the air, which is a colorless gas with a pungent odor that can reach lethal levels surrounding the volcanic fissures.

At lower levels it can irritate skin, eyes, nose, and throat.

"I'm just down there to ensure," Len said. "I know what our highest readings are and if the plume is to turn and come this way, (I'm thinking) how can we best keep the public safe."

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