KAILUA-KONA — The Hawaii Department of Health announced Thursday plans to install 10 new ambient air quality monitoring stations across Hawaii Island.
Several of the new monitors, which will measure sulfur dioxide (SO2) and fine particulate matter (PM2.5), will be situated in West Hawaii. Vog produced by the Kilauea volcano eruption has taken up more or less permanent residence throughout the region as prevailing winds and the island’s topography trap the irritating haze up and down the leeward coast.
Dr. Bruce Anderson, DOH director, has requested the public’s help in the decision of where precisely to locate the department’s coming air quality investment.
“The input we have received from residents during community meetings has been invaluable,” he said in a DOH release. “We want to encourage ongoing dialogue so we can better address their concerns and ensure an effective response.”
Those who wish to submit suggestions may do so by emailing DOH’s Clean Air Branch at firstname.lastname@example.org by June 27.
Anderson first mentioned plans for new air quality monitors at a public forum that convened last week at West Hawaii Civic Center. The meeting came on the heels of public outcry spurred on by some of the most unhealthy PM2.5 readings in the area since DOH began monitoring here almost a decade ago.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency website Airnow.gov, PM2.5 levels registered at “unhealthy for sensitive groups” in Ocean View throughout much of Thursday, while Kona saw a couple hours of “unhealthy for sensitive groups” levels in the late morning, dipping back to “moderate” readings into the afternoon.
In Thursday’s release, the department noted generally the districts of South Kona, North Kona and South Kohala as areas relevant to the coming expansion of its monitoring network.
But at the forum Lisa Young, environmental health specialist with the DOH’s Clean Air Branch, said the department is looking more specifically at both a coastal and inland site in Waikoloa, a site at Kealakehe High or Kealakehe Middle School, replacing a temporary site at the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority with a permanent one, and initiating construction at sites in Hookena and Naalehu. Waikoloa currently has one temporary monitoring station.
Forum attendees had suggestions about spacing and elevation of the monitors to achieve maximum effectiveness, and it’s this type of input Anderson and DOH are now seeking.
Jenny Rhodes, who lives with her three children in Holualoa at an elevation around 1,200 feet, said Thursday she’d like to see measurements taken in that general elevation range, where the vog appears to “hang.”
She also questioned the logic of placing an ambient device, which monitors air quality in its immediate vicinity, at a place like NELHA.
“What’s over by NELHA?” she asked. “It’s not where people are actually living.”
Effective utilization of the monitors is key, as they can run in excess of $120,000 a piece when considering security and electrical access costs.
The release stated that station installation typically takes between a few months to a year, but that DOH hopes to move more quickly. Anderson noted last week he hoped to have the ball rolling on several new West Hawaii stations within two months.
Five permanent stations already exist, one each in South Kona, Hilo, Ocean View, Pahala and Mountain View. There are also two National Park Service stations at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
With its 10 new additions, DOH will operate a statewide network of 25 air quality monitoring stations across all islands.