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The Kilauea Volcano Adult Health Study

Longo, Bernadette M.

doi: 10.1097/NNR.0b013e3181900cc5

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.

Bernadette M. Longo, PhD, RN, is Assistant Professor, Orvis School of Nursing, University of Nevada-Reno, and Department of Public Health, Oregon State University, Corvallis.

Accepted for publication August 4, 2008.

Thank you to the following for contributions to this dissertation research: Joshua Green, MD, of Hawaii; Oregon State University professors Anne Rossignol (chair; epidemiology), Chunhuei Chi (international health), Cathy Neumann (toxicology), and Jackie Paulson (nursing); Big Island pulmonologist Benjamin Ono, MD; atmospheric physicist Raymond Chuan; International Association of Volcanology and Chemistry of the Earth's Interior volcanologists Anita Grunder and Anthony Longo; the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory of the U.S. Geological Survey; and the health professionals of Kau Hospital. Thank you to professors Jill Jones, Alice Running, and Libby Amos for critical review of the manuscript.

There are no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author: Bernadette M. Longo, PhD, RN, Mail Stop 0134, Orvis School of Nursing, University of Nevada-Reno, Reno, NV 89557 (e-mail:

© 2009 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.