Kilauea Spewing Dangerously High Levels of Sulfur Dioxide

Published: Apr. 9, 2008 at 4:46 AM HST|Updated: Apr. 9, 2008 at 7:23 PM HST
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Cindy Orlando
Cindy Orlando
Barney Sheffield
Barney Sheffield

By Mari-Ela David

BIG ISLAND (KHNL) -- The latest activity coming from Kilauea volcano is producing dangerous gases and forcing closures and evacuations on the Big Island. Sulfur dioxide levels have reached a point where Civil Defense issued an emergency health advisory Tuesday.

The health threat could loom over other parts of the state, depending on where the wind shifts.

On Oahu, there was no threat Tuesday. The Department of Health has air quality monitors scattered all over the island, including one in Honolulu. All monitors had low sulfur dioxide readings. But officials say Mother Nature could change that.

Park officials say it's a first in the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park's history - Kilauea spewing so much sulfur dioxide, rangers had to shut down the park and evacuate 2,000 people.

"We need the trades back. Right now we're getting south/southwest winds and those are dangerous winds that push this stuff back towards the developed areas of the park and the adjacent community," said Park Superintendent Cindy Orlando.

Kilauea's fumes were so intense, the Red Cross said a handful of voluntary evacuees rushed to a shelter it opened in Hilo.

"Primarily because they were concerned about the pending vog, so2 conditions in their subdivision and they decided they'd rather come down and stay in Hilo in an air conditioned facility than brave the fumes," said Red Cross Disaster Coordinator Barney Sheffield.

"The visibility was down a lot, you can barely see like to the end of the street and when you're trying to breathe in and it was kind of burning, leaves a funny taste in your mouth," said one voluntary evacuee.

The sulfur dioxide emissions coming out of the volcano have skyrocketed ten fold since December.

"Sulfur dioxide is an irritant. Gas irritates the nose and throat and reacts to oxygen, moisture and sunlight converts to finely divided sulfuric acid particles," said Jeff Sutton, a geochemist.

The potential health hazard could spread from the Big Island to other parts of the state, depending on where the winds blow.

Orlando said by around 9:00 a.m. Wednesday, they should be able to determine whether to reopen the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Also, Big Island officials announced the Kilauea military camp also closed down Tuesday.