Health Department monitoring air quality around Pahoa

The state Department of Health set up three air-quality monitoring stations to warn of potentially dangerous conditions as a result of the lava flow threatening Pahoa.

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The state Department of Health set up three air-quality monitoring stations to warn of potentially dangerous conditions as a result of the lava flow threatening Pahoa.

Dating back to the beginning of the June 27 lava flow, air quality in and around Pahoa town has remained in the “good quality” range, according to Civil Defense Administrator Darryl Oliveira.

“With particulate related to smoke, we have not exceeded conditions into the unhealthy range,” he said Thursday during a morning press briefing.

However, as the flow progresses, the potential for heavier smoke and fumes could increase, depending on the structures in the lava’s path.

This week, heavy black smoke was spotted above the Pahoa Waste Transfer Station as a result of lava burning the asphalt in the facility’s driveway, and a vinyl liner in a fish pond also created intermittent black smoke as it was set on fire by the breakout that destroyed a Cemetery Road home Monday.

During the course of the flow, prevailing winds have regularly sent smoke toward Leilani Estates, Kalapana, Seaview Estates and other homes to the southeast of the flow. On Thursday, Oliveira reported a change in wind patterns would likely shift more smoke to Hawaiian Paradise Park, Hawaiian Beaches and Orchidland Estates to the northeast.

A pair of air-quality monitoring stations, located at Pahoa High School and the Hawaii Academy of Arts and Sciences, have been up and running since Oct. 10. A third was being installed Wednesday at the Health Department’s Leilani Estates sulfur dioxide monitoring station, located about 3,300 feet southwest of Puna Geothermal Venture, Oliveira said.

The existing monitors can register particulates in the air down to 2.5 microns, a size that allows them to penetrate deep into the respiratory tract, he said.

The Health Department is working to make data from the monitors’ readings available to the public via a website. The site would offer “real-time, or current, data in a graphic form, and based on a color code as well,” Oliveira said.

“We want to give the community the opportunity to make decisions ahead of time, rather than waiting until they are feeling the effects or symptoms,” he said.

Keith Kawaoka, program manager for the DOH’s Hazard Evaluation and Emergency Response Office, said Thursday afternoon the website is still a work in progress and couldn’t say when it might be available to the public.

“That is being set up as we speak, and I can’t give you a timeline. We’re trying to get it available, but we’ll have to work out some bugs once we get all the monitors up and running,” he said.

The two monitors at Pahoa High and HAAS initially were set up last month at the request of the Health Department, which opted to keep the schools open during the flow but wanted up-to-the-minute data to keep a close eye on particulate matter in the air, Kawaoka said.

“They’re working up a protocol based on the conditions of what they would do,” in the event that unhealthy levels are detected, he said.

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Meanwhile, the University of Hawaii is working to create Pahoa-area smoke forecasts by applying the air-quality monitor data to its computer model used to forecast vog.

Email Colin M. Stewart at cstewart@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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