Posted by: Anna Webb | May 9, 2009

Response from Hawaii Dept. of Health on Vog


This is in follow-up to my “Monitoring Vog on the Big Island” post. I received this reply on May 8th after sending a second email request to the EPA and DOH on April 28, 2009. It sounds to me like more funds need to be allocated for this project. I wonder if communities could go in together and buy and oversee their OWN monitor.

Now THERE’s a thought. Isn’t it time we begin to think for ourselves and become more independent from relying on the Government to “take care of us”? Yes, we have rights. But when we receive responses like this, maybe we should just take the safety of our own communities into our collective hands.

It’s a thought.

Email received 5/8/09:

Hi Ms. Web,



This is in response to your email regarding vog and the request for another monitoring station in lower Puna.  While we sympathize with your situation, our efforts to improve the monitoring system by adding more stations are hampered by our limited resources to purchase and maintain the monitors which we already have in place.   


The Department of Health (DOH) has had a number of requests for additional monitoring in various Big Island communities.  Currently there are 4 stations which measure sulfur dioxide (SO2) and particulates (PM). These stations are located in Hilo, Kona, Pahala and Mountain View. There is a single station in the Puna are which measures only SO2.  Two additional stations may be established at Hawaiian Ocean View Estates (HOVE) and in Waikoloa.  With limited resources and budget constraints, the plan was to eventually provide ambient air monitoring coverage for most of the Big Island, especially in areas frequently affected by the vog.


Much of the haze that you have been seeing is due to particulates.  The color codes on the website are an index based on the pollutant that is measured at the monitoring station.  It is not based on visibility. 


Although the DOH realizes that monitoring data is important for people to make decisions about their health, there are limitations.  The impact from the volcanic emissions is highly dependent on the local wind conditions, which is very unpredictable on the Big Island.  Spikes of SO2 or particulates could last a few minutes to several hours; SO2 may also be prevalent in one area but not in a nearby neighboring area.  If the vog in your area is visually heavy and the odor strong, it would be advisable to stay indoors, and if appropriate, seek medical assistance regardless of any monitored data.


Thank you for your email and understanding.


Lisa Young

Department of Health, Clean Air Branch


  1. I agree with you 100% Anna. It eventually will be up to us to take matters into our own hands and the care of ourselves.

    Although it is not as heavy in our area today, I have had the scratchy throat feeling and slight taste of the vog since I got up this morning… Can’t seem to stop the tickling in my throat and coughing no matter what I do.

  2. I have too. According to the weather discussion on this will continue for a while. And while it’s not vog at this point, there is a higher than normal level of particulates trapped in the air. I’m scratchy and coughing still too!

  3. So far (knock on wood) the vog has not affected me or my husband except visually. Maybe it is because I grew up near LA 50 years ago before they had smog restrictions. We live right on the ocean, and that might eliminate some of the direct effects, as there is almost always a secondary breeze off of the ocean.

    I have to think that if you are having issues, then you know the vog is unhealthy where you live, so what are our alternatives? Closing all the windows and turning on the AC (on recycle air only)? Just because we know that there is vog does not mean we can do something about it. It is an act of God. Stuff bubbling up through the earth and the wind blowing= bad air.

    • Thanks for your comment, Devany. Interestingly where we live has rarely experienced vog, even though it’s only 10-12 miles from the Pu’u’O’o vent. We live in the little triangle on the coast only 5 miles from the current lava entry point to the ocean. I can see the, now double, plumes from my side deck. However, for the vog to blow this way, the wind has to be blowing in a very unusual direction.
      From the accounts of various neighbors and friends who have lived here for 20 years, this year has been the worst in that time. Used to, we’d get vog maybe for a few days twice a year. This year we’ve had it for a week at a time 4 separate times. I have to think there are some anomalous ocean currents taking place to effect the climate in that way.
      The trade winds come right onto this point on the island, normally blowing vog away. In essence, this would be the last place that would be considered for a monitor. But, we’re so close to the vent that when we do experience it, it’s quite strong and comes on fast – right over the ridge from the vent. You can see it roll over the ridge like a fast moving storm and quickly visibility is reduced sometimes to 1/4 mile.
      No one has AC down here. With the trades, no one needs it. In fact, most homes don’t really seal up tight and most have the louver type windows.

      I know what you mean about smog, for sure. For that reason, it’s almost embarrassing to complain. I lived in Cincinnati, Ohio most of my life which varies from number 8 to number 14 as the “worst air quality cities” in which to live in the country.

      We get spoiled here, especially in Lower Puna! But, here aren’t many alternatives for us here – and if it keeps up, I’ll be visiting friends in different areas more often. I guess I should give them a heads up!


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