246316 Vog in Paradise: Implications to the Ecosystem and Human Health

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Bernadette M. Longo, PhD, RN , Orvis School of Nursing, University of Nevada-Reno, Reno, NV
Brian Panik, DO, FAAEM, FACOEP, FACEP , Emergency Room Physician, Ka'u Hospital and Rural Health Clinic, Pahala, HI
Background: The Earth's 1,300 active volcanoes represent a significant natural source of environmental pollution. Active volcanoes degass pollutants during eruption and between eruptions, creating a continual point source of fluctuating gas and particle emissions that expose ecosystems and populations. Emissions of sulfur dioxide (SO2), fine sulfate particles, and other trace elements (locally called “vog”) have vented for 28 years from the Kilauea Volcano, Hawai`i.

Description: In 2008, eruption activity increased resulting in a 3-fold higher exposure of vog on downwind communities. Daily average concentrations of SO2 were 20.4(±9.0) ppbv during 2007, compared to an average of 68.3(±8.8) ppbv for January 2008-April 2009 when Kilauea's activity increased considerably. Between January 2008 and April 2009, there were 41 days that exceeded the Environmental Protection Agency's 24-hr SO2 standard (140 ppbv), 28 occurrences over the 3-hr standard (500 ppbv), and 18 days when the PM2.5 24-hr standard (35µg/m3) was exceeded. The resulting agricultural crop damage prompted the U.S. Department of Agriculture to declare a primary natural disaster. Ranchers reported damage to grazing lands and infrastructure, as well as health effects in their animals. Increased morbidity of various respiratory illnesses within the exposed human population has been associated with the increased vog. New case studies of emergency room presentations during high-vog episodes (SO2 >600 ppbv) reveal same-day respiratory and cardiac illnesses (moderate to severe), in company with 1 to 3-day lag presentations of bronchitis and pharyngitis.

Lessons Learned: Air pollution caused by nature's forces cannot be abated. Regardless, front-line clinicians can provide the best care and support for those most vulnerable. Geologists, public health scientists, and clinicians should conduct their respective assessments and provide timely education to the public about the health risks from volcanic pollution and interventions to minimize exposure. Researchers should explore possible procoagulatory effects influencing heart attack and stroke mortality.

Learning Areas:
Clinical medicine applied in public health
Environmental health sciences
Implementation of health education strategies, interventions and programs
Public health or related laws, regulations, standards, or guidelines
Public health or related nursing

Learning Objectives:
1. Identify ecosystem and health effects associated with exposure to volcanic air pollution. 2. Articulate the environmental health concerns for communities living near active volcanoes. 3. Utilize these environmental findings in the development of environmental health prevention initiatives in Hawai`i and other communities proximal to active volcanoes.

Keywords: Air Pollutants, Cardiorespiratory

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I am the primary investigator of the research conducting environmental assessment, clinical case reviews, and analyses of these data.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.