Higher sulfur dioxide levels force Big Island park closure
HILO » Hawaii Volcanoes National Park was closed yesterday for the second time this month due to elevated levels of sulfur dioxide from volcanic vents, according to a park news release.
In the neighboring Volcano Golf Course subdivision, county Fire Department personnel went door to door advising people that sulfur dioxide levels were elevated, although no evacuation was ordered.
Resident Barry Stokes said the air got bad for a short time.
"We ordered gas masks by mail," he said. "They came last week, and we put them on for half an hour. It really helped," he said.
Hawaii County Civil Defense put the subdivision on red status, the second-highest alert level. About three miles away, the Volcano Village area was designated as orange status, the third-highest level.
The national park was closed April 8-9 due to a reversal of normal tradewinds, carrying volcanic gases to the populated parts of the park such as the headquarters and the Volcano House hotel.
An estimated 2,000 people evacuated at that time, although most of them were employees who did not necessarily live in the park.
The current park closure was caused by a mix of light winds with variable directions dying down to no wind at all. When the park will reopen is not clear, but the return of normal tradewinds predicted for this weekend could permit reopening, the news release said.
Unlike the closure earlier in the month, the Kilauea Military Camp recreation center remained open yesterday, said park spokeswoman Mardie Lane.
A National Park System Web page showed a mixed picture throughout the day, with "unhealthy" levels of sulfur dioxide from 10 a.m. to noon but improving to "moderate" or "good" conditions throughout the afternoon and evening.
"There is no immediate threat to anyone's safety," the news release said.
Repeated references to the dangers of sulfur dioxide prompted some rumors about acid rain, said the county's new Civil Defense director, Quince Mento.
Even if such rain did take place, it would be too weak to injure people, he said.
There were brief spikes of elevated levels of vog and the chief component of vog, sulfur dioxide, during the day, the county Civil Defense said.
Such spikes are mostly a danger to people who are highly sensitive to the gas, government Web sites said.
The Maui-based Pacific Disaster Center posted a model predicting sulfur dioxide levels as high as 15 parts per million, well above the 1-part-per-million "unhealthy" trigger point. It was unclear whether levels actually went as high as the prediction. Authorities say people in good health can withstand levels three times as high as that for short periods.