Aggressive action needed in dealing with effects of vog
A legislative committee has been set up to study the effects of vog on public health, the environment and the state's economy.
For years, communities in the south and west portions of Hawaii island have had to cope with vog, the gases and haze Kilauea Volcano has been sending their way via the winds that slip around the mass of Mauna Loa.
But in March, a new vent opened at Halemaumau, increasing the volume of emissions as much as 200 percent beyond what was normal from the Puu Oo vent. Coupled with a lack of tradewinds, vog has traveled up the island chain to Maui, Oahu and even as far north as Kauai.
As happens often in Hawaii, until a problem hits Oahu, the seat of political power, concern is muted. Now that the center of the state's economic and political activity is being affected, officials are taking notice. It's about time.
Earlier this week, House Speaker Calvin Say established a committee to look at the effects of vog on health, agriculture, water quality, animals, wildlife and tourism. In addition, the committee chairman, Robert Herkes, who represents the Big Island district from Puna to Kona, has asked Gov. Linda Lingle to set up a central state agency to provide information and help to residents and others concerned.
With no sure way of gauging if and when the volcano will stop pumping clouds of sulfur dioxide and ash into normally clear air, state authorities should be exploring what actions are necessary to protect public health and Hawaii's economic interests.
While it is evident that the 150,000 islanders who have respiratory problems suffer when the air is bad, research about the long-term effects of vog have been inconclusive and studies of gases from volcanoes, including ongoing ones in Hawaii, may not apply because of varying compositions of emissions.
Recent reports have shown that vog has damaged some agricultural products, such as flowers and leafy vegetables. In addition, a range of media accounts and travel Web sites have brought attention to the hazy skies with one showing a murky photo of downtown Honolulu with Diamond Head all but obscured in gray vapors.
State health officials have begun monitoring hospitals and emergency rooms on the Big Island to see how bad health problems may be when vog is especially heavy, but much more needs to be done for the long term.
Tradewinds usually keep the bad air away from major population centers, but weather conditions will probably carry haze across the state indefinitely. Living with vog may become the new "normal" for Hawaii.