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Vog Prompts Shelter-In-Place at Kaʻu High and Pāhala Elementary

11:17 PM · Oct 8, 2021

High levels of sulfur dioxide and particulate matter have reportedly forced students and staff at Kaʻu High School and Pāhala Elementary School to shelter in place this morning, with air quality index measurements peaking at "Very Unhealthy" levels (purple) around 8 to 9 am according to the State of Hawaiʻi Air Quality Data website, but coming down to within "Unhealthy For Sensitive Groups" levels (orange) by 11am. Students and staff are safe indoors, guided by the action plan established by the state departments of Health and education, school representatives, and nursing professionals, but the most recent readings as of 1pm show gas levels trending back up. Strong winds are blowing the eruption plume from Kīlauea's Halemaʻumaʻu crater, about 20 miles northeast, concentrating volcanic emissions near the ground in the very localized area around the state's second oldest public school. According to the same sensor network, the nearby town of Naʻalehu has been unaffected thus far today, though farther uphill the community of Ocean View continues to border on “Moderate” levels (yellow) as it has throughout the eruption, with a similar impact noted along the island's Kona coast, though its Air Quality Index currently shows “Good” levels (green). Since the eruption's lava is wholly contained with the summit crater, its primary hazard is high levels of volcanic gas, which “creates the potential for airborne health hazards to residents and visitors, damages agricultural crops and other plants, and affects livestock,” according to the hazard analysis repeated daily in USGS updates. Sulfur dioxide emissions from the volcano remained at high levels of about 4,700 tonnes per day on Thursday, but have been on the decline, down from 7,000 tonnes per day on Wednesday, and from 85,000 tonnes per day at the start of the eruption. For comparison, the highest emission factories in the United States in 2018 averaged just over 200 tonnes of sulfur dioxide output per day. The Hawaiʻi Interagency Vog Dashboard offers many resources and answers to common questions, and includes both action plans for sulfur dioxide and particulate matter at , while the map is available at . While the temporary shelter-in-place is not of major concern, it is important to note the human impact of eruptions due to volcanic gas rather than lava, as this more common hazard affects communities in Kaʻu and Kona with every eruption.

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