Background: Millions of people reside near active volcanoes, yet data are limited on effects to human health. The Kilauea Volcano is the largest point source for sulfur dioxide in the United States, releasing air pollution on nearby communities since 1983.
Objective: The objectives of this study were to provide the first population-based epidemiological estimates and qualitative descriptions of cardiorespiratory health effects associated with volcanic air pollution.
Methods: An environmental-epidemiological design was used. Exposure levels of Kilauea's air pollutants were determined by environmental sampling. Prevalence estimates of cardiorespiratory health effects in adults were measured (N = 335) and compared between an exposed and nonexposed reference community. Descriptions of the human-environment interaction with the long-standing eruption were recorded from informants in the natural setting.
Results: Ambient and indoor concentrations of volcanic air pollution were above the World Health Organization's recommended exposure levels. There were statistically significant increased odds associated with exposure for self-reported cough, phlegm, rhinorrhea, sore and dry throat, sinus congestion, wheezing, eye irritation, and diagnosed bronchitis. Thirty-five percent of the informants perceived that their health was affected by the eruption, mainly current and former smokers and those with chronic respiratory disease.
Discussion: Hypotheses were supported regarding particulate air pollution and the association with adverse cardiovascular functioning. This emerging environmental health issue is under continuing investigation.