Vog study: Good and bad news


A study of vog and wind patterns shows communities most impacted by the volcanic emissions can predict when the air is likely to be cleaner, a researcher told a County Council committee Monday.

Pahala residents can expect relatively clean air from about 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., as long as normal trade wind conditions prevail, University of Nevada at Reno Professor Bernadette Longo said.

In Ocean View, the air is generally clean from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m., again as long as the trade winds are blowing, she told the council’s Human Services, Social Services and Public Safety Commission during a meeting at the West Hawaii Civic Center.

She and other researchers learned about the times with clear air by working with the data the state collected with air monitors.

“There is a pattern,” she said. “That’s really good for the community.”

Knowing the times when air is generally going to be clear allows schools to plan outdoor activities, including physical education class and sports practices, and helps residents plan when they can go outside to walk or work in their yards or gardens, Longo said.

Significantly more days this year than last year have had poor air quality, Longo said. “Last year, 66 percent of the days the air was of poor air quality,” she said. “Just this year, there have been only eight clear-air days.”

Children, because they tend to be more active and because they breathe through their mouths more than through their noses, tend to get a larger “dose” of vog than adults.

“About 87 percent of sulfur dioxide gas can be filtered out through the nose and never reach the lungs,” she said.

Different housing construction types can help prevent too much exposure to sulfur dioxide and particulates, she said.

A modern house construction can have just 15 percent to 23 percent vog penetration inside, even with open windows, compared with a single-wall, plantation-style home, which can have 56 percent to 69 percent vog penetration.

Longo completed dissertation work on Hawaii Island several years ago, going door-to-door to talk with residents about the effect vog has on their health and their lives.

She has funding for another door-to-door survey, she said.

She said government officials need to coordinate in offering information on how to prevent overexposure to vog, particularly through education and by offering an updated emergency response plan and improving shelters to provide places for people to stay when air pollutant levels increase.

People also need to be better educated on what symptoms children show when they are suffering from too much vog exposure. Longo said children and adults have different symptoms.

Longo urged the council to continue supporting vog research and research into vog mitigation efforts.

Kohala Councilman Pete Hoffmann asked Longo what the county or state should do to educate tourists about vog, something she did not touch on during her presentation.

Longo suggested the state offer a pamphlet explaining what vog is and encouraging people with asthma, for example, to keep their inhalers on hand when traveling around Hawaii Island.

That’s a good idea, Hoffmann said, but “I’m also very sensitive about not putting out bad publicity.

“I’m very much concerned that we need to do something.”