Lava is not the only thing flowing out of the fissures of Kilauea on Hawaii. Sulfur dioxide, a foul-smelling and toxic gas, has also driven people from their homes.
According to the USGS, sulfur dioxide levels near the volcano have been measured above 100 parts per million. That is a level considered dangerous to human health. Noxious on its own, sulfur dioxide is also the main ingredient in volcanic smog. Known as vog in Hawaii, it can have a variety of adverse health effects.
Vog occurs when the sulfur dioxide spewing from a volcano reacts with oxygen, moisture, and other particles in the air in the presence of sunlight. It is considered a form of air pollution, not unlike that given off by power plants burning sulfurous coal. Looking back to December 1948, a similar type of toxic smog caused by unregulated industrial pollution killed 26 people and sickened thousands of others in Donora, PA.
Volcanic smog can irritate the skin, eyes, nose, throat, and lungs. Shortness of breath and dizziness can also occur. Its effects can be even worse for anyone with respiratory problems or lung disease.
This threat, on top of the flowing lava, has led public health officials to order an evacuation of areas around the fissures, such as the hard hit Leilani Estates. Other parts of the Big Island, however, have reported moderate to good air quality. This is largely because the region’s prevailing northeast trade winds have been pushing the vog offshore. If those winds slacken and a southeasterly flow emerges, the vog could impact a wider area, including other islands in the Hawaiian chain.
Volcanic eruptions spew gas as well as lava. Credit: GoVisitHawaii
When winter rolls around, I am often reminded of the old Scandinavian saying: “There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing choices.”
Since the weather is going to do whatever it is going to do, it is important to be prepared for anything that Mother Nature throws your way. In winter, that means cold temperatures.
Extreme cold causes the body to lose heat faster than it can be generated. Prolonged exposure, according to the CDC, can cause serious health problems such as hypothermia and frostbite.
To stay safe this winter, remember to bundle up in layers and wear hats and gloves to minimize the loss of body heat.
The air we breathe is not always good for us. Air pollution has been linked to a number of health concerns, from asthma to heart disease, and even cancer. To raise awareness about this issue, artist Dominque Paul has created a dress that changes colors to indicate how safe the air we breathe actually is. It’s called Air Quality Interactive Wearable.
With the exception of smog and wildfire smoke, air pollution is not something we can always see with the naked eye. To make it visible, Ms. Paul uses an Air Beam, a portable device that measures the amount of small particles (PM 2.5) in the air. These are particles that are less than 2.5 microns or 0.0001 inches in diameter. Using the Air Beam’s calculation, a color from the EPA’s Air Quality Index is assigned to the dress. These colors range from green for good air quality to yellow, orange, red, and purple, which indicate increasing levels of pollution.
Ms. Paul created this wearable art piece as part of a residency program with IDEAS xLab, a non-profit organization that uses art to raise awareness about public health. Watch the video below of her “Air Walk” in the South Bronx section of New York City.
Summer has only just begun and it seems like every few days there is a report of a child dying from heatstroke in a hot car. These types of tragedies, however, are preventable.
Since 1998, according to kidsandcars.org, there has been an average of 37 hot car deaths in the US every year. That is one every nine days. This year, there have already been 15 deaths reported.
Credit: USA Today
On a sunny day, the interior temperature of a parked car can increase 19°F in just ten minutes. That means if the outside air temperature is a seemingly comfortable 70°F, the inside of the car can heat up to near 90°F in a very short span of time. The situation is even worse when the outside temperature is higher and the car sits in the sun longer.
According to the Mayo Clinic, if the human body reaches 104°F, organ damage and death become a real risk. Children are even more vulnerable because their smaller bodies can heat up between three to five times faster than an adult. Most hot car victims are under the age of three.
These dangerous situations develop in a number of different ways. Children can sometimes find their own way into a car while playing outside or a guardian leaves them alone in a vehicle for what seems like a quick errand. However, the majority of hot car deaths occur when a parent or caregiver gets distracted and simply forgets that a child is still in the back seat when they park their car.
To avoid a heartbreaking tragedy, remember to Look Before You Lock!
The second heat wave of the year is underway in the Big Apple. As temperatures soar, it is important to remember that intense heat can cause serious health problems.
According to the CDC, extreme heat – temperatures that are significantly hotter than the average local summertime high – is one of the leading causes of weather-related deaths in this country. Claiming hundreds of lives every year, excessive heat kills more people across the U.S. than hurricanes and tornadoes combined.
Extreme heat is deadly because it forces the human body beyond its capacity to cool itself. Linked to overheating and dehydration, heat-related illnesses can range in severity from mild to life-threatening. Symptoms for each stage include:
Heat Cramps: Painful muscle spasms in the legs and/or abdomen
Heat Exhaustion: fatigue, weakness, clammy skin, and nausea
Heat Stroke: rapid pulse, hot and dry skin, no sweating. This is a medical emergency
To beat the heat, the American Red Cross suggests:
- Avoid strenuous activity
- Dress lightly
- Eat lightly
- Drink plenty of water
- Replenish salts and minerals lost through perspiration
- Limit caffeine and alcohol
- Stay out of the sun
- Cool off in an air-conditioned building, when possible
Autumn, with its crisp temperatures, is a favorite season for many. But for others, the decreasing daylight hours can bring on a condition known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
According to the Mayo Clinic, SAD is a “subtype of depression that comes and goes with the seasons” and is most common in fall and winter. Its exact cause is not fully understood, but researchers say a reduction of sunlight can disrupt the production of serotonin and melatonin – chemicals in the brain that regulate mood and sleep patterns. SAD symptoms include low spirits, lack of energy, difficulty concentrating, and changes in both sleep and eating patterns.
SAD is typically found in places that are far from the equator where daylight is at a minimum in the winter months. A report by the American Academy of Family Physicians says about 6% of the US population suffers from some degree of SAD, with most cases occurring in Alaska.
The most common treatment for SAD is light therapy. This involves sitting in front of a special lamp that gives off light that is similar to natural sunshine. It has been shown to trigger the brain chemicals that regulate mood. The more serious cases of SAD could require advanced talk-therapy or even medication.
While everyone can feel a little “blue” once in awhile, SAD is characterized by a prolonged feeling of depression. It can be a serious condition and should be diagnosed by a medical professional.
The most common type of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) occurs in fall and winter. Credit: hercampus
Dealing with a cold is annoying anytime of the year. However, during the summer, when you want to be outside enjoying the beautiful weather, it is especially frustrating. Adding insult to injury, summer colds also tend to be worse than the winter variety.
The reason for this, according to infectious disease experts, is that different viruses cause summer and winter colds. Winter colds are the result of rhinoviruses and summer colds are produced by enteroviruses.
Along with the usual coughing and congestion of a winter cold, enteroviruses can cause a host of other nasty symptoms. These include, fever, diarrhea, sore throat, and body aches. They also tend to last for a few weeks and can reoccur. Rhinoviruses, by contrast, usually run their course in a few days.
This resilient virus, according to the National Institute of Health, is present year round, but thrives in mild weather. Most infections occur between June and October.
Since most people spend more time outdoors during the summer months, summer colds are less prevalent than winter ones. Nevertheless, they are spread through contact with infected people and contaminated surfaces. To help reduce your odds of getting sick, doctors recommend you wash your hands frequently and avoid touching your face.
A Summer Cold. Credit: mlive
Summer vacation season has arrived and millions of people will be heading to beaches to beat the heat over the next few months. As such, it is important to remember that the ocean is a dynamic environment that can pose a number of hazards for swimmers. Chief among these are rip currents.
Rip currents are fast, localized channels of water moving away from the shoreline. According to NOAA, they are a result of “complex interactions between waves, currents, water levels and nearshore bathymetry.” They can form in several different ways on any beach with breaking waves. That said, they are typically found at breaks in sandbars and along permanent structures that extend out into the water such as jetties or piers.
Moving at up to 8 feet per second – which is faster than an Olympic swimmer – rip currents can easily drag unsuspecting swimmers hundreds of yards out to sea. While they will not pull anyone underwater, they can cause fatigue and panic. According to the U.S. Lifesaving Association, rip currents are responsible for 80% of all surf zone rescues. Nationally, they cause more than one hundred deaths every year.
To spot a rip current, look for a gap in the breaking waves. This is where the water is forcing its way back out to sea. The water in this area is also usually murky and darker than the surrounding water. On guarded beaches, red flags indicate hazardous conditions for swimmers.
If caught in a rip current, the Red Cross recommends not trying to swim against it. Instead, they say to swim parallel to the shoreline until you are out of the current. Once free, you can start swimming back toward the beach.
For more information on beach safety, visit: http://www.redcross.org/prepare/disaster/water-safety/beach-safety
Image Credit: NOAA.
One of the most important items on the packing list for my trip to Colorado this past week was sun-block. Averaging 300 days of sunshine per year at a mean altitude of 6,800 feet above sea level, the U.V. index in the Centennial state can range from high to extreme during the summer months.
The U.V. index is a scale that measures the intensity of the sun’s ultraviolet radiation. Readings vary from place to place as local factors affect the amount of U.V. light that reaches the ground. These include, the thickness of the ozone layer, latitude, season, cloud cover, and elevation. Developed by the NWS and EPA in the early 1990’s, it informs the public about the daily health risk of unprotected exposure to the sun.
At high elevations, the atmosphere thins and is less able to absorb U.V. radiation. With every 1000-foot increase in height, according to the National Institutes of Health, U.V. levels increase by about 4%. So, in Denver, “the Mile High City”, U.V. radiation is about 20% stronger than a location at sea level at the same latitude. Heading up into the Rocky Mountains, where peaks can reach above 14,000 feet, the U.V. intensity soars even higher.
The issue of climate change mitigation was front and center in Washington, DC yesterday as the EPA unveiled its new Clean Power Plan. The proposed regulation would reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from all the fossil fuel based power plants across the United States.
According to the EPA, “The combustion of fossil fuels to generate electricity is the largest single source of CO2 emissions in the nation, accounting for about 38% of total U.S. CO2 emissions in 2012.” Since coal is known to release more CO2 than any other fossil fuel, this new regulation targets existing coal-fired power plants. Specifically, it calls for a 30% cut in carbon pollution compared to 2005 levels by 2030.
To comply with this new national regulation, individual states will have flexibility in how they choose to cut emissions. Some options include increasing energy efficiency, maximizing renewable energy sources like solar and wind, and joining a regional cap-and-trade program like RGGI in the northeast.
In addition to fighting climate change, this new rule would also improve air quality and human health. Issued at the direction of President Obama under the authority of the Clean Air Act, the EPA says this regulation will “reduce pollutants that contribute to the soot and smog that make people sick by over 25 percent.” In fact, the agency projects the lower emissions will help avoid as many as 6,600 premature deaths and over 100,000 asthma attacks in children.
While this new rule is not without its critics, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy emphasized the need for action. In a press conference, she said: “This is not just about disappearing polar bears and melting ice caps. This is about protecting our health and it is about protecting our homes.” The new regulation – scheduled to be finalized next summer – will also help the U.S. meet its commitment to the U.N. to cut carbon pollution by 17% by 2020.
US Carbon Dioxide Emissions by Source. Credit: EPA/Inventory of US Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks: 1990-2012