Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano continues to erupt, discharging red lava and gas from multiple cracks in the earth. Since the eruption began last week, 36 buildings have been consumed by the volcano’s fury, and nearly 2,000 residents have fled the area. With no end in sight, scientists are now saying the eruption will likely intensify over the next few weeks.
Experts with the U.S. Geological Survey think if Kilauea’s crater falls to groundwater level, strong steam-driven explosions will send “pebble-sized rocks” and ash flying for several miles. Reuters reports nearby towns like Hilo and Pahoa will feel the brunt of the falling debris.
While hot lava, falling rocks, and dirty ash are bad enough, toxic gas from Kilauea is another health hazard residents need to be cautious of. Sulfur dioxide is one of many poisonous gases erupting volcanoes discharge, and it is a potential killer. Per a report from USA Today, sulfur dioxide will immediately cause respiratory problems at low levels. However, at concentrated levels, the gas will suffocate someone.
Levels of sulfur dioxide being emitted from Kilauea’s current eruption are above 100 parts per million, according to recent measurements conducted by local geologists. Dr. Elizabeth Tam, a respiratory health specialist, said these levels are extremely high and potentially fatal.
“These are really high levels, and that’s why [people near the volcano had to] evacuate,” Tam told Time Magazine.
Volcanic smog, otherwise known as vog, is a vaporous mist that forms when gas and fine particles emitted from a volcano mix with moisture in the air. While not necessarily life-threatening, someone breathing in vog will experience headaches and lung irritation.
Big Island residents living near Kilauea’s eruption also need to be wary of acid rain. Fortunately, acid rain is not as dangerous as it sounds.
According to Steven Businger, a meteorologist with the University of Hawaii, acid rain is typically not concentrated enough to have much of an effect on people. Since acid rain seeps into the ground, trees are more likely victims of its deadly chemical composition. Damage to metal structures and roofs will also occur as the acid will accelerate corrosion.
Red lava has been pouring out of 14 fissures, and over 100 acres of land have been covered since the eruption of Kilauea began on Thursday. Known as a shield volcano, Kilauea is the most active in Hawaii and has been in an almost constant state of eruption for the last 35 years.