Big Island Hawaii

The Hawaiian chain was created by the earth’s crust moving over a hotspot on the earth’s mantle. The Pacific plate moves at about 32 miles every million years and is why the oldest and now typically smaller (due to erosion) islands are at the top northwest of the archipelago and the newest island Hawaii, which is bigger than all the other islands combined, is the last island in the chain and is still experiencing volcanic activity. Hawai’i, or the Big Island as we all know it, was the home island of Pai’ea Kamehameha, who by 1795 united most of the Hawaiian islands under his rule after several years of war (one of the most bitter battles was fought in Iao Valley).

Today, however the only dakine that is invading our shores from the Big island is in the air and is a byproduct from the constant spewing lava out of Pu’u O’o, a cinder cone in the Kilauea volcano. VOG. Vog is a combination of the words volcanic and smog and can be very present here on Maui when the wind has changed direction from the regular northeast trade winds to coming from the south (leeward) or no wind at all). Last month there were many such days, also known as Kona days, and the vog was really bad.

Vog is the byproduct of an active volcano, which releases gases consisting of: water vapor, carbon dioxide, sulfer dioxide, hydrogen, and a variety of other acid and inert gases. Currently, Pu’u O’o is reported to emit around 200 tons of sulfer dioxide per day. These gases then react with oxygen, sunlight and moisture to create vog. According to research by the time the vog plume reaches Maui the sulfer dioxide and sulfuric acid have already been converted almost entirely into ammonium sulfate.

Vog can be very unpleasant. It can produce headaches, sore throats, irritation to the lungs and eyes and for people with asthma and other respiratory problems, can cause a tightening of the airways in the lungs, making it very difficult to breathe.

Long-term effects of vog are ‘unclear’ but there are a number of strategies we can utilize to minimize our exposure to vog’s immediate irritations.

When possible, on the really bad days, it’s best to stay indoors, especially if we have little ones, with the windows and doors closed and sealed. If you have one available to you, use an air conditioner or dehumidifier. These will condense water out of the indoor air and in doing so will remove the particulate sulfur compounds and acid gases. An air purifier will also help.

Now if you don’t have any of these at your disposal according to research at the University of Hawai’i Hilo, you can use something as, “simple as a fan and a wet hand towel, or cheesecloth saturated in a thin paste of baking soda and water. Drape the cloth over the face of the fan and turn the fan on at a low or medium speed. The baking soda will neutralize the sulfer compounds and the moisture will help remove the particles from the air. (You’ll need to keep the cloth damp at all times to ensure that it’s most effective. But, as always when operating electrical appliances in the process of water, be very careful not to get the fan motor wet)”.

If you must be outdoors, the first rule is to listen to your body. If you find yourself or child being fatigued quickly reduce your level of activity. If you start to have difficulty breathing, complain of a sore throat or headache then it is essential that you move to an area that is free of the irritating vog.

Stay hydrated, the same UHH document reports that having plenty of water allows your body to ‘clear the particles from your lungs and flush the inhaled sulfer compounds from your body’. Tune in and seek medical attention if breathing problems persist or your symptoms don’t improve, especially if you or your child suffers from asthma, which can be onset by the vog.

Image Credit: Paul Bacon Jr

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