Effects of Volcanic Smog in Hawaii





Effects of Volcanic Smog in Hawaii

The state of Hawaii comprises eight islands, which have several volcanoes. However, of all the islands, only the Big Island has an active volcano. Kilauea Volcano is known for its volcanic activities since the early 1980s. This has continued over the years, and has had different effects on people and the environment near the volcano. During its volcanic activity, the volcano emits dangerous gases as well as lava flows, which flow constantly. The volcanic gases react with atmospheric air to form volcanic smog, also called a vog. The volcanic smog created by Kilauea volcano is hazardous to the surrounding population as well as the whole island, economically, socially, environmentally, and physically.

A volcanic smog results when sulfur dioxide mixes with different other gases, moisture, and sunlight in the atmosphere. Sulfur dioxide is produced, whether the volcanic activity was small or big. The effects of volcanic smog are greatly felt by those people living very close to the volcano. However, those living far away from the volcano are still affected, though in a lower measure. This is mainly because of the action of winds, which transfer the smog to different areas. In Hawaii, it is estimated that there has been approximately 50 volcanic eruptions in the twentieth Century only (Rado Web).

Water in the area is greatly affected by the volcanic smog. First, there is the formation of acidic rain when sulfur dioxide in the gases emitted reacts with Oxygen in the air. The acid rain is lethal to plants, animals, and human beings. This therefore leads to other major effects. People in Hawaii Island mainly depended on rooftop rainwater for drinking and domestic and farm use. Therefore, when the volcanic smog results in acidic rain, this means the people cannot benefit from this water, as it is not safe for any use. This water cannot be drunk as it is contaminated. Therefore, they have to look for alternative sources of water for domestic use.

Similarly, the acidic rain is not good for plants and other organisms. Most people in Hawaii Island practise farming as their main source of income. They plant different crops including flowers in plantations. When acidic rain occurs, the crops in plantations are destroyed, and this has forced most farmers living around Kilauea Volcano to abandon farming and look for alternative means of survival (“NCBCNEWS” Web). The sulfur dioxide in the volcanic smog has had disastrous effects on one Kau district. Many farms and nurseries have been destroyed, in addition to putting at risk flower and vegetable farms and other crops such as tomatoes, lettuce, medical marijuana, as well as sunflower, and roses. The Hawaii government, because of the economic depression has not been able to compensate farmers for the losses, forcing most farmers to relocate. This has therefore disrupted the economic and social set-up of people, including farmers, as some have been compelled to move out of Hawaii in search of different jobs (“NCBCNEWS” Web).

Apart from the economic effects, volcanic smog also affects the health of people. The volcanic smog comprises a variety of dangerous gases, and small particles and droplets that have high levels of acidity. All these can be inhaled by people, to rest in the lungs. This affects the mucus membrane and lungs, as well as lung function. This is in addition to the worsening of lung conditions such as asthma, and bronchitis, among others (“MedlinePlus.” Web). In 1997, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) noted that respiratory problems due to sulfur vapors mostly affect young children (Rado Web).This is because their lungs are still developing and so might have long-term effects on the children. This puts at the risk the future population of Hawaii Island, as these children are the future of the society. Collaborating with the Hawaii Department of Health, the NIEHS conducted a health research in Hawaii to establish the relationship between volcanic smog and respiratory problems in children (Rado Web). However, the long-term effects of volcanic smog have not been realized yet. Therefore, US scientists, together with the Hawaiian Volcanic Observatory (HVO),  in an effort to determine the impact of volcanic smog on human health, conduct keen monitoring of the composition and amount of gas emitted from the volcano’s eruption. The Hawaiian Volcanic Observatory (HVO), compares the information they collect with other sources with similar topics, and hands it over to health organizations who study further effects, with the advice of HVO. In addition, the NIEHS together with the Hawaii Department of Health are still working in Hawaii to establish the long-term effects of volcanic smog on asthma and other lung complications (“USGS” Web).

The volcanic smog also presents a problem in visibility. Atmospheric moisture leads to the expansion of the particles in volcanic fog, thus reducing level of visibility. People in Hawaii experience a gray cloud and therefore have to use their headlights in traffic even during daytime. This visibility problem as well affects the air transport, as pilots cannot have clear view in the course of the vog, therefore making Hawaiian skies dangerous for flights (“USGS” Web).

Lava from the Kilauea volcano, in its molten form, flows through underground passages, called vents, to reach the Pacific Ocean. Most recently, three lava flows were experienced in the Pacific Ocean, near the Puna coast. In the ocean, the lava reacts with the ocean water to result in formation of vast steam plumes, also called “laze,” which have a high content of Hydrochloric acid. This form of pollution of seawater is an environmental threat, as it leads to death of aquatic organisms in the affected part of the ocean. However, this instance in Hawaii since the beginning of 1983 has attracted a big number of tourists from different parts of the world to come and experience the lava flows and the volcanic activity of the Kilauea volcano. However, the health risks associated with vulcanicity in Hawaii raise many concerns. This poses a health threat to all the tourists visiting the southeast coast of Hawaii Island and other parts of Hawaii. If this persists, it is clear that Hawaii will lose a considerable number of tourists, thereby affecting negatively, its tourism sector, as well as the whole economy of the Island, considering that there are benefits attached to the visits of these tourists on the Island.

The small particles and droplets in volcanic smog are sulfuric in nature. These are therefore corrosive in nature, and can be compared to the quality of dilute battery acid. When these combine with moisture in the atmosphere, the acidic rain formed, apart from affecting plants, also influences rusting. This leads to accelerated rusting of metallic objects in Hawaii Island. These include cars, and different equipment used in industries, farms, and construction. This results in losses for the owners of these equipment, and this calls for a costly maintenance of their equipment and cars (“USGS”Web).

Although the volcanic smog is a common experience in Hawaii despite its negative effects, the people living in Hawaii still carry on with their day-to-day activities. The main force behind their survival lies in the way these have adapted to the volcanic smog, especially by the employment of ways to counteract or lessen the effects of the volcanic smog. Hawaiians are advised to exercise protection from the volcanic smog. For instance, they are expected to stay indoors in case of eruptions in order to reduce their exposure to the volcanic smog. While outdoors, it is recommended that the Hawaiians wear protective facemasks, to prevent the inhaling of the dangerous gases in the volcanic smog (“MedlinePlus.” Web). In addition, they take plenty of fluids, including hot liquids in order to clear their respiratory paths. Similarly, lung exercises are recommended for Hawaiians living near the Kilauea Volcano. This helps them learn to breathe with ease, considering the constraints that lethal gases in volcanic smog present them. Therefore, with these, the Hawaiians can minimize the adverse health effects the volcanic smog exposes them to, since they cannot stop its volcanic activities (“MedlinePlus.” Web).

In conclusion, this case of Hawaii is devastating, yet it is expected to continue over the coming years as the Kilauea Volcano exhibits no signs of becoming inactive soon. Therefore, being the largest country with the emitting sulfur dioxide, Hawaii will continue to experience these effects in the future. As mentioned, these effects, presently, are already lethal to the stability of the Island in terms of the economy, the environment, social functions, and health-wise. This has resulted in destruction of farms and natural environment by the volcanic smog, which burns the plants due to its high acidity. Farmers, being unable to invest in farming anymore have been compelled to look for greener pastures in the neighboring states. The health of people is equally affected, although the long-term impact of volcanic smog on health is still being studied. These among other adverse effects continue to affect Hawaii in an unpleasant manner. Nonetheless, this situation is purely natural, and is beyond the control of Hawaii. It is only by adopting strategies to minimize the effects of this phenomenon that Hawaii will ensure the survival of its population.
Works Cited

“MedlinePlus.” Lung Problems and Volcano Smog. 23 October 2012. Web. Retrieved 5

December 2012. <http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/007468.htm.>

“NCBCNEWS” Volcanic Smog Shutting Down Hawaii Farmers. 3 September 2009. Web.

Retrieved 5 December, 2012. <http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/29595775/ns/us_news-


“USGS” Volcanic Air Pollution – A Hazard in Hawaii. June 200. Web. Retrieved 5 December,

2012. <http://pubs.usgs.gov/fs/fs169-97/>

Rado, Alicia. “USC preventive medicine researchers examine effects of volcanic air pollution on

children.” 2003, Web. Retrieved 5 December 2012. <http://www.usc.edu/uscnews/stories/8580.html>


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