(BIVN) – The Puna community got a lesson in the effects of sulfur dioxide last night in Pahoa from Dr. Alvin Bronstein, the Hawaii health department’s Emergency Medical Services and Injury Prevention Systems Branch Chief.
Parts of Leilani Estates and Lanipuna Gardens have been inundated with dangerous volcanic gases since the eruptions began, even before the most recent fissure eruptions. The county has been trying to restrict access to residents of Lanipuna due to the associated dangers.
Dr. Bronstein told the audience: “Sulfur dioxide is the primary agent that’s being released from the volcano. That’s the primary health effect agent. That’s what everybody is concerned about now. The emissions are actually quite complex, there’s many gases that come out, and there’s also stones and dust. But the primary compound that we worry about the most is the sulfur dioxide, which is a gas you can’t see. It does smell like a burnt match.”
“Its a highly reactive molecule,” Bronstein said, “and it’s looking for something to glom onto. In medicine we use certain drugs that have sulfur attached to it, because they’re active and they pick things up like lead. Somebody has too much lead in their body, we use a compound with sulfur and that binds the lead out.”
“This particular gas is very active and it’s looking for something to glom onto. So it likes to stick to mucous membranes, or the linings of the mouth, the nose, the respiratory tract,” Bronstein said. “When this happens weeks, people experience usually irritation at relatively low levels. And it’s a spectrum of symptoms, from the lowest symptom of just some irritation a little cough maybe, to tearing because the sulphur dioxide it reacts with the conjunctiva of the eyes, so we get redness we get watering we can get worse and it reacts through the nose through the throat and into the trachea.”
“Now when it hits the lining and on the lining of all of our respiratory organs, we got water. So when it hits that it gloms to the cells and also makes acid so it’s sort of a double whammy, if you will,” Bronstein said. “Where the problems come in it causes tissue swelling, and so that can present by coughing people. feel chest tightness. They can can’t catch their breath. And as the concentration goes up the respiratory system, the pipes can actually shut down, because of all the swelling. So that’s how people succumb to this problem.”
“People who have asthma can develop asthma attacks and have difficulty catching their breath at extremely low levels. So asthmatics or people with respiratory diseases are more at risk from the sulfur dioxide,” Bronstein said. “Children are more at risk also, because children breathe faster than adults and they process more air. So they take in more of it then the adult does. And also for the adults people with asthma, bronchitis, emphysema, heart disease… they’re more at risk from this sulfur dioxide than a healthy person.”
The Department of Health is working on updating SO2 data reporting online.