Friday, May 9, 2008
Big Island Residents need help with VOG impact
By Rep. Bob Herkes (District 5 - Puna, Kau, South Kona, North Kona)
I sent a letter to Governor Lingle today expressing grave concern for Big Island residents impacted by the volcanic activity at Halemaumau. The administration needs to come up with a comprehensive coordinated plan to help those affected by the volcanic activity. I've asked the Governor to provide either a central contact or clearinghouse that would better serve those whose health and livelihood are endangered.
Most of the people I have talked to are not sure of the impact of sulfur dioxide (SO2) on their personal health. Big Island residents fear for their health, their pets and farm animals, their water systems, their farm crops, and businesses. Yet, the various state agencies are ineffective in providing up-to-date information or any meaningful assistance. Here are the main areas in which residents need help:
The Department of Health has issued a color code of various levels of SO2, but the community is unaware of where these monitoring stations are located in proximity to their homes.
When SO2 reaches a dangerous level, how are the impacted communities alerted?
Many rural areas of the Big Island are without cell phone coverage. What precautions are taken, especially for vulnerable seniors and children, to protect those in rural areas?
What is the impact on household pets, and what protections should pet owners take on their behalf?
Many people in Kau, South Kona and Lower Puna use catchment systems for their home water usage, and they have received no information on the impact of volcanic ash and sulfur dioxide on their water quality.
I have a UV system that sterilizes my water. Over the years, I have had increased levels of SO2 in this system from acid rain, indicated by a greenish ring in the basin that signals that the acid is having an impact on the copper pipes. Most of us do not know of any sources to test acid levels in our water systems. I am not sure what precautions we should be taking, and this is the type of information that the state should be providing.
Many protea crops on Hawaii Island are taking a major hit due to contamination from the vog. Protea growers in the Kahuku district report a complete loss of their crops. The estimated loss to these growers exceeds hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Two solutions suggested to the growers were to water their crops or add baking soda to combat the acidity. One grower reported that even after the additional expense of purchasing water from a water hauler the damage appeared to get worse. It is suspected that the water had been contaminated by the SO2. The other suggestion, baking soda, was applied to the protea, which turned the leaves black. All farmers are in desperate need of guidance to combat the effects of SO2 on their crops to avoid a loss similar to what the protea growers are facing.
Is the Department of Agriculture providing any resources, either directly or through federal agencies, to help farmers protect their crops and mitigate their losses?
What is the impact of the vog on cattle and other ranch animals? What protective action can and should be taken?
EVACUATION OR RELOCATION PLANNING
I have lived through the 1946 and 1960 tsunamis that devastated Hilo and resulted in the relocation of businesses and some residents to tsunami safe areas. At what point in time should advance planning be initiated for the possible relocation of communities in high level vog areas?
In my 60 + years of observing volcanic activity on the Big Island, I have never seen this kind of activity, and while residents have had to deal with the loss of land, roads, infrastructure and their homes, they have never faced a threat such as the current impact of volcanic ash and toxic levels of sulfur dioxide. I reiterated to the Governor that more information and assistance is sorely needed, and that there should be a knowledgeable central agency or clearinghouse set up to help people.