Friday | March 24, 2017
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Volcanic smog adds to Oahu ER crowding


HONOLULU — Volcanic smog over Oahu further taxed Oahu's emergency rooms after the recent closures of two hospitals, emergency medical services officials said.

Volcanic gas emissions from the Big Island's Kilauea volcano create what's commonly known as vog. If the trade-winds stop or if wind blows in the opposite direction, other islands such as Oahu experience the condition. Kilauea has been in constant eruption since Jan. 3, 1983.

"The vog contributed to quite a number of calls yesterday," Dr. Jim Ireland, director of Honolulu's Emergency Medical Services division said Wednesday. "A lot of calls for respiratory complaints, headache, watery eyes."

Vog can be problematic for people with pre-existing respiratory conditions. The long-term health effects of vog are unknown. Health officials warned those with respiratory disorders to stay indoors, drink plenty of water and avoid strenuous activity.

At one point Tuesday, when the vog rolled in, only two emergency rooms were accepting ambulance patients. Hawaii Medical Center closed two bankrupt hospitals in Ewa and Liliha last month.

Dispatchers received 254 calls on Tuesday — 32 percent more than a normal day, according to EMS.

Hospitals on Oahu were so busy that EMS was asked to bring in only those who were critically ill, Ireland said.

"The emergency rooms have been heavily taxed for a number of years now but I think with the closure of the HMC facilities they've seen a tremendous increase," said EMS District Chief Kelly Yamamoto. "It's a really tough time for all the emergency rooms. I think everybody is kind of having to raise their bar a little bit and make room for more patients."