Residents in communities inundated with ash fear health impact - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Residents in communities inundated with ash fear health impact

Image: USGS/File Image: USGS/File
PAHALA, HAWAII (HawaiiNewsNow) -

Explosive eruptions at Halemaumau Crater have overwhelmed Ka'u neighborhoods on the Big Island for weeks, and residents in the area say more needs to be done to inform them about how the emissions are affecting them.

"We were catching the other end of things," said Waiohinu resident Puu Davis. "The earthquake, the ash, and of course the vog, and I mean big time, where you couldn't even see."

"And yet they allowed our children to stay in school," Davis said.

The ash has sent the number of absentees soaring at Pahala Elementary and Ka'u High School, where sometimes nearly half of the 500-member student body called in sick.

"It's like cement," said Davis. "Once the moisture gets to it, it's like cement. So what's it doing in my lungs?"

Others are worried that the ash could contaminate water catchment systems and cause health problems.

Pahala resident Clarissa Pua said her home is on the county water system, but residents in the Ocean View subdivision in the southern part of the island use catchments.

"The ash went into their tanks, so a lot of them may have to empty out their tanks, (or) cover over their water tanks," Pua said.

Scientists told residents that the ash shouldn't cause health problems.

"It can cause problems with your filtering system, with the pumps, but people should not be afraid that ash is going to poison the water," said Tina Neal, scientist-in-charge at the U.S. Geological Survey Hawaiian Volcano Observatory.

Residents aren't the only ones concerned about air quality.

Norwegian Cruise Lines canceled Wednesday's stop in Kona due to air quality concerns. The company said it would decide whether to return next week if the quality improves.

Despite the many concerns, the state Health Department reported that there were acceptable levels of sulfur dioxide in Kailua-Kona and moderate levels of particulate matter.

Geologists said they are working to improve the ways they notify residents in the path of volcanic emissions.

"Being able to accurately detect an explosion when they happen, knowing that there's ash involved, knowing which way the wind is blowing, and then working with the weather service to get the right statement out," said Neal.

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