Tuesday | May 05, 2015
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Report: Vog makes for unhealthy Big Island air

HONOLULU — The Big Island received a failing grade for particulate pollution in the air, according to an American Lung Association report card released Wednesday.

But that’s because one of the island’s main sources of particulate pollution is volcanic emissions, commonly known as vog.

The association’s “State of the Air 2013” report card gave Hawaii County an “F” despite a decrease in the number of days with unhealthy particulate pollution — from 23.5 days in 2012 to 12.5 this year. Particulate pollution is a mix of very tiny solid and liquid particles in the air. If they’re small enough, they can stay in the air for long periods, Steve Businger, a University of Hawaii meteorology professor and vog expert, said.

Honolulu is the only county in the state that collected data on ozone levels. There were no days of unhealthy levels of ozone, or smog, which is the most widespread air pollutant.

Maui County received healthy grades for particulate pollution. According to the report, figures available for Kauai County were incomplete.

Volcanic gas emissions from the Big Island’s Kilauea volcano create Hawaii’s vog. If the trade winds stop or if wind blows in the opposite direction, other islands including Oahu, Maui and Kauai, experience the condition.

Kilauea has been erupting since Jan. 3, 1983.

Still, people should be assured that Hawaii’s overall air quality is good, Businger said.

“I don’t think people need to worry unless they happen to be very sensitive to vog,” Businger said. He added that on days when vog levels are high, people should stay indoors, limit outdoor exercise and drink plenty of fluids.

The annual report grades counties nationwide for ozone and particulate pollution levels. Cheyenne, Wyo., ranked No. 1 in the top 25 cleanest cities for year-round air pollution. Bakersfield-Delano in California ranked the worst for particulate pollution, while California’s Los Angeles-Long Beach-Riverside region had the worst ozone ranking.