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Eruption Puts Lung Health at Risk

(May 9, 2018) - HONOLULU

For more information please contact:

Holly Harvey
[email protected]
(206) 512-3292

The Kilauea volcanic eruption not only produces dangerous lava flows, but also produces dangerous air toxins, like sulfur dioxide, that harms health.  

“While we are all watching the updates on the Kilauea eruptions, it’s important to be vigilant to your health and safety no matter where you live in Hawaii. We’ve been fortunate to have trade winds push the vog out to sea the past few days, but be aware of the changes that could potentially affect the entire state,” says Kahala Howser, Executive Director of the American Lung Association in Hawaii. ”With the elevated levels of sulfur dioxide, it’s particularly important to monitor your exposure and that of those around you. Be safe.”    

Sulfur dioxide can cause a range of harmful effects on the lungs and can cause respiratory problems such as bronchitis and asthma attacks. It irritates the nose, throat and airways to cause coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, or a tight feeling around the chest. The effects of sulfur dioxide are felt very quickly.

Sulfur dioxide, and all air pollutants, are especially harmful to children, older adults and people with lung disease such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema. Exposure to bad air can trigger asthma attacks and cause wheezing, coughing, and more. The American Lung Association urges those with chronic disease to be prepared with some tips listed below.  The Lung Association and the Department of Health advise Hawaii Island residents and visitors to also get advice and updates from the County of Hawaii. Updates including civil defense messages and alerts are provided on the County of Hawaii’s website.

Tips to protect your lungs from volcanic ash:

  • Make sure you have an adequate supply of medication in event of evacuation. If needed, get refills.
  • Be prepared and pack all needed medications, equipment ahead of time. Your health and safety are most important.
  • Follow all evacuation orders.
  • Dust masks will not help. Do whatever it takes to avoid exposure. Plan ahead and know where to go.
  • If your breathing becomes more challenging, get medical attention immediately.

For more information about air pollution, visit For media interested in speaking with an expert, please contact Holly Harvey at the American Lung Association of the Mountain Pacific at (206) 512-3292 or [email protected].


About the American Lung Association

The American Lung Association is the leading organization working to save lives by improving lung health and preventing lung disease, through research, education and advocacy. The work of the American Lung Association is focused on four strategic imperatives: to defeat lung cancer; to improve the air we breathe; to reduce the burden of lung disease on individuals and their families; and to eliminate tobacco use and tobacco-related diseases. For more information about the American Lung Association, a holder of the coveted 4-star rating from Charity Navigator and a Gold-Level GuideStar Member, or to support the work it does, call 1-800-LUNGUSA (1-800-586-4872) or visit:

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