GEORGE F. LEE / GLEE@STARBULLETIN.COM
Volcanic haze blanketed Honolulu for a second day yesterday, obscuring the cityscape and natural landscape. This photo was taken from Kaimuki.
Clearing the air
Vog, plaguing residents with breathing problems, is expected to ease up soon
Residents with breathing problems are advised to stay inside and avoid outdoor exercise until the volcanic haze shrouding the islands goes away.
Vog, or volcanic fog, can cause breathing problems especially for people with respiratory conditions, such as asthma, emphysema and bronchitis. The American Lung Association and the state Department of Health recommend the following precautions.
» Stay indoors, with an air conditioner on if possible.
» Do not smoke or stay around secondhand smoke.
» Limit physical activity.
» Drink liquids; warm fluids are especially helpful.
» Check your medicine and keep it handy.
» Call your doctor as soon as a breathing problem starts.
Conditions may improve with light trades as early as tonight or tomorrow, according to the National Weather Service.
"We will still be in a kind of sea breeze, land breeze situation up this way," said forecaster Vic DeJesus. But he said it should start to clear a little over the weekend.
"It's again pretty severe," Jean Evans, chief executive officer of the American Lung Association of Hawaii, said yesterday. But it's worse on the Big Island than Oahu because of sulfur dioxide, she said. "Gas tends to stay closer to the volcano."
About 150,000 islanders have some type of lung disease, from very mild to quite severe, Evans said. Those with asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (bronchitis or emphysema) are in a high-risk group, she said.
"Also, if you have a cold, flu or lung cancer, all of those things are already making it more difficult to breathe, so this is not going to help."
Children are more vulnerable because their airways are smaller and particulates in the air are more difficult to breathe, Evans said.
Residents with breathing difficulties should stay inside, especially if they have air conditioning, and keep medicines handy, she said. If they have serious trouble, they should call their doctor.
She also advises drinking a lot of fluids. "Warm fluids tend to help a little more than cold ones," she said. "It helps to loosen mucus and helps people cough."
A surgical mask might be helpful but some people can't breathe through anything and it's the least important of the precautions, Evans said.
She said the lung association is participating in a task force on the Big Island to get information out to residents and to schools on how to protect against vog.
The districts of South Hilo and Puna from Keaau to Volcano remained in the yellow color code today, meaning people in sensitive groups should stay indoors, the Hawaii County Civil Defense reported.
DeJesus said light tradewinds over the weekend should start pushing pollutants south to southeast, back out over the ocean.
"It won't be a typical seasonal 15 to 20 mph situation," he said. But he said, "A more easterly flow should develop and hopefully clear things out a little bit so people should get back to their normal lives."
Meanwhile, state Rep. Robert Herkes (D, Puna-Kau-South Kona-North Kona) asked Gov. Linda Lingle in a letter to provide a central contact or clearinghouse to help residents affected by the volcanic activity.
"Big Island residents fear for their health, their pets and farm animals, their water systems, their farm crops and businesses," he said in a news release. "Yet the various state agencies are ineffective in providing up-to-date information or any meaningful assistance."
In more than 60 years of observing the Big Island's volcanic activity, Herkes said he had never seen the volcanic ash and sulfur dioxide at such levels.