Toxic Hawaiian Volcano Poses Health Risks to Residents, Crops

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Published October 14, 2009

| FoxNews.com

It's one of the most active volcanoes in the world, but now Kilauea — on the big island of Hawaii — is making headlines for something else.

It's called vog, it's a mix of sulfur dioxide and other chemicals, which when combined with sunlight and dust, forms a thick soupy haze similar to smog.

Although the volcano has been spitting out vog for more than two decades now, a new vent that opened near the summit in March of 2008 has made things, well — more "voggy." And it's giving some people a headache — literally and financially.

In addition to causing health problems like itchy and watery eyes and noses, vog is harmful for the exotic plant industry. When the sulfur dioxide hits the moisture inside the beloved protea flower, it turns to sulfuric acid, and burns the plant to a crisp. It has become a major problem for residents who make their living growing these exotic Hawaiian flowers.

Toni and Sam Bayaoa lost 90 percent of their crop last year. Fortunately they were able to come up what seems like a solution. A friend of theirs in South Africa told them to burn the spoiled flowers with a flame and use the ash to protect the new buds. Oddly enough it worked, but the Bayaoas are still working hard at making up their losses from last year, and always trying to stay one step ahead of the vog.

Health concerns surrounding the vog have public schools creating a separate air conditioned "safe" room for kids who experience breathing problems on days when the air is particularly thick with the sulfur dioxide.

The state hasn't been able to do much about the problem, but Sens. Daniel Akaka and Daniel Inouye have been able to secure some federal grants for protea growers like the Bayoas' crops.

Those affected note the trade winds are blowing the vog towards Oahu, where the state legislature presides. Their hope is that lawmakers will be able to see and smell the problem a little bit more clearly.

Residents remember that, afterall, there wouldn't be a Hawaiian Islands Chain without volcanic activity — it's what formed and shaped the tropical islands.

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