Friday, June 20, 2008

Finding our way through the VOG

Jim Kauahikaua, Scientist in charge at the USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, provides information to the Special Committee on VOG Effects.

For more than three hours, top scientists, health experts and defense specialists came together this morning and contributed information on the impact of sulfur dioxide and what we can do to protect ourselves. We do have monitors in place to measure the levels of SO2 in the air, and we need more, but we have to realize that these monitors only provide a "snapshot in time" and we need to better understand how to interpret the data. Even if we are able to publicly post danger levels, people have different tolerance levels. As Dr. Fukino, Department of Health Director, said, "Each individual needs to make an assessment according to your own response to the environment."
Click here to review all the material from the briefing. Mahalo to the House Majority Staff Office for their work in scanning the information.
Rep. Robert Herkes plans at least three more such informational briefings focusing on the impact of VOG on agriculture, public safety and the economy. Here is the text of his Opening Statement today:
"We want to thank all of you that are here today to help us find answers to the many questions and concerns that the people of this state have asked us.

Many of us have lived through the vog problems as a result of the ongoing eruption at Pu`u O`o. The recent activity at Halema`uma`u has intensified the problem and many more communities are now in the path of vog.

It is not the intent of this Chair or this Committee to blame anyone or any agency. This is not a federal vs. state vs. county issue. This is a bipartisan effort to find answers.

We recognize that this is primarily the responsibility of the county governments but when we get into the areas of public health and schools we see this as a statewide problem.

I have been criticized for not holding this hearing on Hawaii Island. We are having this hearing at the capitol for a number of reasons.

First, most of the experts that we want to provide testimony are here. Second is the ability to have our resources here to record all of the information. The House Majority Staff Office will be working on the final hearing report for a vote by the members of this committee. The Legislative Reference Bureau will be receiving and recording all documents received by this Committee. Today I am submitting several hundred pages of documents into the record.

Olelo has agreed to broadcast this hearing live, and the Neighbor Island public access stations are also carrying the broadcast live.

The members of this Committee are well aware of the community's questions and concerns. I live about 2 miles from Halema`uma`u crater and my home, my pets and my water catchment system have all been impacted. As I stated in my letter to Governor Lingle I have been besieged by calls and e-mails from concerned people asking for answers. I have met with farm groups and been into various communities hearing their concerns. I have had calls from as far away as Kauai and have even received letters from the mainland offering comments and advice.

Rep. Hanohano has lived with this in her community for about 23 years. She is very familiar with the concerns in lower Puna. Rep. Green has firsthand knowledge of the health risks from his duty at Ka`u and Kohala emergency rooms, and he will lead the discussion today on health issues. Rep. Takamine has received a number of concerns from the senior centers in Hamakua. Rep. Jerry Chang, as Chair of the Higher Education Committee, has helped us with contacts with the experts at the University of Hawaii, both at Manoa and Hilo. Rep. Tsuji, as Chair of the Agricultural Committee has been looking into the impacts on agriculture and will lead that discussion at a later date. Rep. Evans is not here today but as Chair on the Committee on Public Safety and Military Affairs will lead the hearing on those issues at a later date. We are pleased that Rep. Finnegan, the minority leader in the House, had joined us and has valuable input.

Finally, we plan to have four of these fact-finding hearings. The next one will be on public safety, then one on the impacts on agriculture, and finally one on the economic impacts. It is our intention then to gather as much information as we can and put it into one source. We will also develop a plan to get the information out to the public for their use."

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