As vog conditions worsen on Big Island, respiratory masks are in short supply

PAHOA, HAWAII (HawaiiNewsNow) - Big Island businesses are struggling to keep protective respiratory masks on their shelves as vog conditions worsen.

Myke Metcalf, of Pahoa Auto Parts, said he sold out of the masks in 15 minutes on Friday morning.

He says his order came in incorrectly and now he has 300 carbon cartridges and no masks to connect them to. He said he has already purchased everything 3M has in Hawaii.

Metcalf is selling the masks, cartridges and pre-filters at cost. He said that's about $25 a person.

Metcalf provided an update Friday night saying the proper shipment came in and he's open for business for whoever needs a mask. The shop says they got about 190 units Friday night and will remain open until supplies run out.

Meanwhile, residents are scrambling to find masks wherever they can find them — even as health experts say they actually offer little to no protection and might actually give people a false sense of security.

Special N-95 face masks do nothing to protect against sulfur dioxide, health experts say.

The best way to protect yourself is to steer clear of the area.

Still, residents are looking for the masks across affected areas.

Clayton Thomas went to at least five different places looking for a mask and was unsuccessful.

"It's kind of scary because I want it most for ... my nephew, who has asthma," he said. "I'm just worried about you know, the air quality."

Jacquilyn Chamberlin lives in Puna Beach Palisades, and said the masks that she had been using weren't enough.

"I walked through a gas cloud in my neighborhood on Tuesday and my chest was hurting so much that I couldn't even bend forward," she said. "I went for nebulizer treatment and N95 was not enough. I had no warning."

Petronila Blank, a resident of Hawaiian Beaches, said she's been trying to get a mask for several days.

She said the vog has gotten worse in recent days. "I can really smell it now," she said.

People with lung conditions need to take special precautions in heavy vog conditions because exposure could land them in the hospital. If you have allergies or asthma, make sure you have your medications, especially if you're closer to the fissures — the source of sulfur dioxide.

If you're in close proximity to the sulfur dioxide and can't get further away, stay indoors. This goes for your pets, too. Air conditioners and purifiers may also help.

This story will be updated. 

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