After surviving earthquakes and molten lava, residents of Hawaii’s Big Island now have new threats to worry about: steam-driven explosions, hazardous volcanic smog and acid rain.
The US Geological Survey’s Hawaiian Volcano Observatory on Wednesday warned of possible explosive eruptions in the coming weeks. That could happen because as lava continues to sink in a lake inside a Kilauea crater, an influx of groundwater could interact with the lava to create steam explosions.
Those forces would emit “ballistic projectiles” — as small as pebbles or weighing up to several tons. The agencies also said ash clouds would rise to greater elevations, dispensing ash over wider areas.
“At this time, we cannot say with certainty that explosive activity will occur, how large the explosions could be, or how long such explosive activity could continue,” an advisory said.
Gov. David Ige asked President Donald Trump to issue a disaster declaration for Hawaii as a result of the ongoing earthquakes and volcano eruption, according to a press release.
The declaration allows federal funds to begin to flow to state and local efforts in Hawaii. The estimated cost to protect residents over the next 30 days is expected to exceed $2.9 million, according to the governor’s office.
A brief explosion Wednesday on a Kilauea crater was the result of falling rocks and not the interaction of lava with the water table, the USGS said.
The Kilauea eruption last week created new volcanic vents on the ground miles east of the summit, releasing slow-moving lava and toxic gas into island communities.
Officials have warned of dangerous levels of sulfur dioxide gas.
If winds weaken, that gas and other volcanic pollutants can settle easily with moisture and dust to create a haze called volcanic smog, or “vog,” with tiny sulfuric acid droplets that can pose respiratory problems, according to the US Geological Survey.
Trade winds could weaken Thursday and Friday, meaning the vog that’s largely been accumulating over the ocean south of the Big Island could pool over a larger portion of it, creating possible health hazards, the National Weather Service says.
And with high chances of rain on those days, sulfuric acid droplets would fall, creating another menace known as acid rain, CNN meteorologist Michael Guy says.
At higher concentrations, vog can cause headaches and irritation to the lungs and eyes, the University of Hawaii at Hilo says.
“Because of their small size, aerosol particles such as those in vog penetrate deep into the human lung and are readily retained,” the USGS says.
High levels of acidic particles in vog “can induce asthma attacks, especially in adolescents, and can also impede the ability of the upper respiratory tract to remove other potentially harmful particles,” it says.
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