Kilauea Volcano | Sulphur Dioxide
THE KILAUEA VOLCANO
For those of you who have been paying attention to current events, Hawaii has been subject to a volcanic explosion for the past several months. Since May, the Kilauea volcano has been erupting. This has caused the evacuation of over 700 homes, 1,700 residents, and the destruction of over 12 square miles. Mother Nature is a force to be reckoned with.
Indeed, lava is a sight to behold. However, what we’re focused on more-so than the lava on the ground is the elements in the air. In a volcanic eruption, along with the destruction of land comes the pollution of the atmosphere. As you read this, toxic gases are filling the air around the eruption zone. This is a problem a great deal more difficult to address than the magma itself.
NOW YOU VOLCANE-KNOW
A volcano is any place on a planet where some material from the inside of the planet makes its way through to the planet's surface. In the case of the Kilauea Volcano, this material is magma - or fluid molten rock - partially liquid, partially solid and partially gaseous. Building and bubbling under the earth’s surface, magma becomes lava once projected through a vent.
Lava’s temperature ranges from 1,300 to 2,200 °F - you don’t need to tell us that’s pretty dang hot. Along with the bright orange stuff you see on the ground, there’s gases being released from the volcanoes vents as well.
While the ground can be evacuated and cleared - the air poses a different problem. With the lava comes toxic volcanic gases - primarily water vapor, sulphur dioxide, carbon dioxide, hydrogen sulphide and hydrogen halides. Copious amounts of it breach the earth’s surface and enter the atmosphere. While the highest concentrations exist directly above and in the surrounding area of the blast, the gases spread fairly rapidly.
In the case of Kilauea, sulphur dioxide levels are scientist’s main concern. A colorless gas with no odor, it’s nearly impossible to detect without specialized testing and scientific equipment. Exposure to very high levels of sulfur dioxide can be life threatening. Once in existence at 100 parts of sulfur dioxide per million parts of air (100 ppm), it is considered immediately dangerous to human life and health.
The EPA has set an air quality standard of 0.03 ppm for long-term, 1-year average concentrations of sulfur dioxide. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has set a limit of 2 ppm over an 8-hour workday, 40-hour work week (Source: ATSDR). As can be expected, these levels and exposure limits have been determined and outlined for workplace environments (typically smelting facilities and power plants). When it comes to natural disasters, there’s no means by which to control exposure levels. Mother Nature answers to no one.
Scientists are having a difficult time determining just how much sulphur dioxide is being released into the atmosphere. While previous levels can be compared to more recent readings, the amount of variables at play makes any definitive answer nearly impossible. What they can be sure of though, is that it’s on the rise.
As previously mentioned, the immediate physical effects of Kilauea have been witnessed. Bringing about destruction in its wake, one source claims the eruption has already produced enough lava to pave Kilauea has produced at least 113.5 million cubic meters of lava, which is enough to fill 45,400 Olympic swimming pools or bury Manhattan nearly seven feet deep (Source: Earther.com).
The air effects are a different problem entirely. While many experts are saying that the majority of the gases are being pushed offshore by the trade winds, many in the area are still highly susceptible. What’s more, sulfur dioxide is highly corrosive. Much of the infrastructure in the area will be undergoing its effects and both the private and public sectors are at risk.
A volcanic eruption will cleary cause logistical disruptions for businesses, but the corrosive element is one to take into consideration as well. Any of our clients who use vendors out of Hawaii will want to be made aware of this. Intercept™hopes that any and all Hawaiian residents whose lives have been affected by this unforeseen event are safe and sound and to stay safe.