Scientists monitor toxic gas levels at Kilauea

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High levels of toxic sulfur dioxide gas at Kilauea volcano threaten the temporary closure of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island.

The Honolulu Star-Bulletin reported that a seven-member planning team is due to arrive at the park from the mainland today to prepare for emergency action should winds shift and carry the gas through populated areas of the park. Thus far, trade winds have blown most of the emissions into a desert area away from the park.

The Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, located within the park, reported Sunday that sulfur dioxide levels at the volcano's summit had reached 2,500 metric tons per day, more than 10 times higher than average levels last year. About 800 people live and work inside the park. Scientists are continuously monitoring areas at Jaggar Museum and Kilauea Visitor Center. According to yesterday's status report from the observatory, concentrations were below detection limits at both the museum and the visitors center.

Meanwhile, Hawaii County is planning for a possible evacuation of the town of Volcano, which is located on the edge of the park.

The National Park Service earlier closed a section of Crater Rim Drive that lies within the desert area when levels reached one part per million. In some areas of Crater Rim Drive, concentrations were up to 40 parts per million.

Children and people with breathing problems are particularly at risk from elevated levels of sulfur dioxide, the observatory said.

To contact reporter Margaret Myre, send e-mail to [email protected].

 

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