Youths’ asthma not tied to vog exposure
KEAUHOU, Hawaii » A study involving nearly 2,000 Big Island students found no direct correlation between child asthmatics and exposure to vog, or volcanic smog, generated by erupting Kilauea Volcano.
"We thought if volcanic air pollution was a large factor, then asthma rates would be higher where vog is more prevalent," said Dr. Elizabeth Tam, study leader and University of Hawaii pulmonologist at the John A. Burns School of Medicine.
But that didn't turn out to be the case.
The Hawaii Island Children's Lung Assessment Scientific Study found higher asthma rates in North and East Hawaii, but higher volcanic air pollution in South and West Hawaii, Tam said Thursday at the annual conference of the Hawaii Island Rural Health Association.
The study has not yet looked into whether there may be a correlation between vog and other respiratory problems, she said.
The $1.25 million, five-year study involves 8- to 10-year-old children whose lung growth is compared over a three-year period. It is the first study comparing air quality with lung health of Big Island residents.
Vog is formed when sulfur dioxide emitted from the volcano reacts with sunlight, oxygen, dust particles and water in the air to form tiny droplets known as sulfate aerosols, sulfuric acid and other substances.
Kilauea, which has been erupting continuously since Jan. 3, 1983, produces up to 30,000 tons of sulfur dioxide per day.
The volcanic smog can bring on headaches and respiratory ailments, make eyes water and throats burn.
Not surprisingly, the study found a correlation between asthma and children who live in homes were people smoke, Tam said.
In 2003-04, about 30 percent of the children studied had asthma and lived in a smoking home, compared with 24 percent who had asthma and lived in a nonsmoking home. In 2004-05, those numbers increased, with about 32 percent in smoking homes and about 28 percent in nonsmoking homes.
"This is an area we can do something about," Tam said. "Even if it's just smoking outside the home."