Study tallies vog-related health care costs

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Since its summit erupted in 2008, Kilauea Volcano has increased health care costs statewide by approximately $6.3 million, new research shows.

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Since its summit erupted in 2008, Kilauea Volcano has increased health care costs statewide by approximately $6.3 million, new research shows.

Timothy Halliday, an associate professor of economics at the University of Hawaii at Manoa and co-author of the study, said it is the first time a dollar figure has been calculated for the damage associated with Kilauea’s emissions.

“This is probably the most convincing evidence that the volcanic emissions from Kilauea are having adverse health consequences,” he said.

While the figure may seem low, Halliday stressed the true cost is likely “much greater,” as the study measured the effects against very acute outcomes, specifically emergency room visits.

“Anecdotal evidence suggests that vog (volcanic smog) causes considerable health impacts that do not necessitate a trip to the emergency room,” he writes in the paper’s conclusion. “A full accounting of the different ways that volcanic pollution affects health in Hawaii is beyond the scope of this paper but our estimates certainly suggest that the full cost is quite large.”

Kilauea is the world’s most active volcano and the largest source of sulfur dioxide, SO2, in the United States. That SO2 eventually forms particulate matter, another pollutant.

Since March 12, 2008, there has been a dramatic increase in SO2 emissions from Kilauea, with current daily emissions fluctuating between 500 and 1,500 tons per day.

In their research, which used state Department of Health air quality data and emergency room admissions compiled by a Honolulu nonprofit, Halliday and the others found “strong evidence” that particulate pollution increases pulmonary-related hospitalization.

“Specifically, a one standard deviation increase in particulate pollution leads to a 2 to 3 (percent) increase in expenditures on emergency room visits for pulmonary-related outcomes,” they write in the report. “We do not find strong effects for pure SO2 pollution or for cardiovascular outcomes. … The effects of particulate pollution on pulmonary-related admissions are the most concentrated among the very young (children under the age of 5).”

The total health care cost of the emissions since the summit eruption began on March 12, 2008, has been $6,277,204, according to the study.

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In addition to quantifying the financial impact, Halliday said the goal was to study SO2 as a common industrial pollutant. The volcano, he said, can be used to say something about Environmental Protection Agency standards.

For more information and to view the entire study, visit uhero.hawaii.edu/products/view/488.

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