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Volcanic fog from Big Island’s Mauna Loa causing health hazards

<i>KITV</i><br/>Volcanic fog from the Big Island's Mauna Loa is causing health hazards.
Volcanic fog from the Big Island's Mauna Loa is causing health hazards.

By Kristen Consillio

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    HAWAII (KITV) — Kamuela resident Rusty Niau says she woke up with a coughing fit around 3 this morning and wondered what was causing it.

About an hour later she found out that Mauna Loa was erupting.

“It is scary,” she said. “But it’s like you have to live, right? So this is how we’re living right now. So you have to take your own precautions. You got to make safety a priority for yourself.”

Hawaii health officials warn the eruption could cause vog, ash in the air, and sulfur dioxide in different areas of the state.

And the American Lung Association in Hawaii says those emissions could be dangerous to your health, triggering asthma attacks and wheezing, breathing problems and increase the risk of premature death — especially for people already suffering from respiratory issues.

“When it erupts, it releases a lot of toxic gases. They could potentially have life-threatening events that could lead to death,” said Pulmonologist Dr. Jordan Lee of The Queen’s Health System. “This should be a warning for everyone to take an extra precaution.”

This — as respiratory illnesses such as COVID-19, flu, RSV and other viruses are expected to become more prevalent during the holidays.

That’s why Big Island hospitals are preparing for the worst, activating their emergency management centers early this morning.

“We dusted off that playbook and opened it up and are ready to receive any patients coming to us and care for our community,” said Hilo Medical Center spokeswoman Elena Cabatu. “So there’s a sense of, you know, marvel and excitement here, but also, we need to take care of each other and make sure we stay up to date and heed all the warnings.”

To minimize risks, experts say wear a mask, stay indoors during voggy conditions and use air purifiers.

They also advise people to avoid smoking and to drink plenty of fluids and keep medications — including inhalers if necessary — on hand.

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