Schools need to be prepared to address vog-related exposures and take actions appropriate to protect children and staff. Children or staff with pre-existing respiratory or heart disease are at higher risk for potential health effects from vog. Schools closer to the volcanic vent(s) potentially could be exposed to elevated levels of both SO2 gas and fine particles (PM2.5), while schools further away from the source vent(s), such as in West Hawaiʻi, may only have to address fine particle exposures. Ashfall events may also affect schools downwind of the source. Exposures to these air contaminants are variable, depending on the amount and type of volcanic emissions on any day, the wind direction and wind speed, and the distance from the source vent(s).
Note that most school buildings on Hawaiʻi Island are old and without air-conditioning, so are not built very ‘tight’ and, therefore, do not prevent infiltration of outdoor air (when doors and windows are closed) for long periods of time. To respond to this situation, schools have established designated spaces to use as ‘sensitive’ rooms, with greater levels of protection for kids or staff who may need it during temporary increases in vog concentrations. There are air monitoring stations at a number of schools, while others need to check readings from the nearest monitoring location available, or perhaps utilize hand-held monitoring devices if those are available. The Hawaii Department of Education (HDOE) school action plans (below) for SO2, fine particles (PM2.5), and ashfall events provide recommended actions tied to the specific, color-coded, air concentrations (SO2 and PM2.5), or accumulation amount of ash. As concentrations (or accumulation) increase, more protective actions need to be taken.
The Hawaii State Department of Health (HDOH), HDOE school representatives, and nursing professionals have developed the following action plans for schools:
Recommended actions/activities at specific SO2 concentrations/advisory levels
Recommended actions/activities at specific PM2.5 concentrations/advisory levels
Recommended actions/activities at various ash accumulation levels
Please note: the above action plans state that affected individuals will be evaluated by SHA using sections of the SHA Manual. SHA are School Health Aides (HDOE employees at public schools).
Manual section 3-3-9 Asthma, wheezing, difficult breathing
Manual section 3-3-28 Eye problems (injury)
Manual section 3-3-29 Eye problems (particle in eye)
Factsheet describing risk of volcanic emissions for children and protective actions
Nursing experts/ HDOH/ HDOE
Information for school staff describing actions and resources to help care for K-12 students during volcanic eruptions
Letter to parents/guardians to address usage of N95 masks for children
Information for the public regarding the latest developments on the Kīlauea eruption and its implication for schools, students, staff and families, with links to partner resources.