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Vog from Maunaloa begins to raise concerns among north side communities

People come to view the Maunaloa volcano as it erupts Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2022, near Hilo, Hawaiʻi.
Gregory Bull
People come to view the Maunaloa volcano as it erupts Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2022, near Hilo, Hawaiʻi.

Satellite imagery from this morning shows the front of Maunaloa's lava flow just under 2 miles from the Daniel K. Inouye Highway.

The front is creeping forward at about 70 feet per hour — less than half its speed yesterday. Scientists say that is not a sign that the eruption is nearing a close since lava is still being produced at significant rates at Fissure 3.

Hawaiʻi Island Mayor Mitch Roth confirmed the Hawaiʻi Army National Guard will be activated today to help with increased traffic along the highway. The Army says over 14,000 vehicles have traversed the viewing route since it opened.

In addition to the increased traffic prompted by the Maunaloa eruption, health risks from vog have also raised concerns.

According to the University of Hawaiʻi's VMAP Vog Forecast Dashboard, winds are currently blowing out of the south, which means vog could be impacting residents on the north side of the island.

State toxicologist Dr. Diana Felton says the Department of Health has been keeping a close eye on all the air monitors around Hawai‘i Island and across the state.

She says at this point, she doesn’t expect people to have significant health impacts from vog. But if it starts to get worse, there are many things people can do to reduce the impact.

"So you can have, you know, something sort of complex as leaving the area that's impacted and moving to a different part of the island where the vog is less. But there's also simpler things that can be done," Felton said.

"So limiting your outdoor activity or exertion outdoors can help. Staying inside. If your house seals, you know, closing the doors and windows, running an air purifier. If you have an air conditioner, setting it to recirculate. And then some of the sort of usual things about staying healthy like staying hydrated, avoiding smoking, those will also help," she told The Conversation.

Felton adds that face masks do not help protect against sulfur dioxide and other gases coming out of a volcano, but could provide some protection against ash and the thin glass fibers known locally as Pele’s hair.

This interview aired on The Conversation on Dec. 6, 2022. The Conversation airs weekdays at 11 a.m. on HPR-1.

Russell Subiono is the executive producer of The Conversation and host of HPR's This Is Our Hawaiʻi podcast. Born in Honolulu and raised on Hawaiʻi Island, he’s spent the last decade working in local film, television and radio. Contact him at talkback@hawaiipublicradio.org.
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