High Alert: ‘Lava haze’ and ‘vog’ toxic volcanic gases prompt health fears in Hawaii Three dozen tourists were gathered at the Wailoa Sampan Basin Harbor in Hilo, Hawaii, hoping to get a glimpse of the lava that they’d seen on the news for weeks. But because Hawaii Volcanoes national park – often a key stop in travelers’ itineraries – was closed after Kilauea erupted, their best hope on Monday afternoon was taking a boat to the point where the lava met the sea. Some said they’d packed breathing masks, just in case the trade winds — which usually blow in clean sea air — changed direction and began blowing a lava haze, a noxious mix of gases and particles, their way. Although many tourists to Hawaii island – the Big Island – choose to visit because of the active volcano, some have gotten more than they bargained for since the eruption. (Petra Wiesenbauer, who runs a popular Pahoa lodge near the park, had to hurry three guests out of the door while she and her neighbors fled the lava and toxic fumes.) Up until lava crossed Highway 137 late Saturday night and entered the ocean, volcanic smog, called vog, which contains mostly sulfur dioxide and acid particles, along with ash, had been the biggest air quality concern. But then the molten rock began pouring into the cool seawater and added clouds of lava haze or “laze”. Officials warned people to stay away since the plumes can travel up to 15 miles downwind, according to the Hawaii Volcano Observatory. The clouds form when hot lava boils seawater, creating tiny shards of volcanic glass and hydrochloric acid that then get carried in steam. The plumes can be deadly. The USGS says on its website: “This hot, corrosive gas mixture caused two deaths immediately adjacent to the coastal entry point in 2000, when seawater washed across recent and active lava flows.” Hawaii civil defense cautioned people on Monday to “stay away from the ocean plume since it can change direction without warning”. In the case of laze and vog, store-bought respirators filter particles but not hydrochloric acid or sulfur dioxide. Vog and laze can cause eye irritation, skin irritation and respiratory issues, according to officials. Those with conditions like asthma or cardiovascular disease are most sensitive, as are the elderly, children and pregnant women, according to an interagency group of volcano experts. Even before the recent Kilauea eruption, Hawaii already suffered air quality issues from volcanic gases. The island of Hawaii has the highest sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions in the nation, according to EPA spokesman Dean Higuchi. And according to a 2016 report published in the scientific journal Environmental international, levels were “1,000 times greater” than the EPA’s definition of a major pollution source.