UH Study on Long-Term Effects of Volcanic Emissions on Respiratory Health Receives National Funding

University of Hawaiʻi
Posted: Jan 29, 2002

A University of Hawai'i study led by pulmonologist Elizabeth Tam of the UH Manoa John A. Burns School of Medicine (JABSOM) recently received a $305,042 award from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. The five-year program will receive a total of more than $1.5 million over its duration.

LAVA, or Lung Assessment during Volcanic Activity, is a UH-based project studying the long-term effects of volcanic emissions on the respiratory health of the Big Island population. It is the first comprehensive program that measures air quality and chronic lung health at the same time. Previous studies funded by the American Lung Association or Centers for Disease Control considered acute health symptoms. Other studies measured the frequency of emergency room visits, but did not measure local air quality at the same time.

The goals of the LAVA project are 1) to teach residents research skills, thereby enabling them to actively participate in their environmental health and safety; 2) to assess the community's exposure to vog over the last 10 years, based on historical records of weather patterns and volcanic emissions; 3) to measure current acidity and amount of particles small enough to breathe starting in 2002; 4) to do cross-sectional studies of the respiratory systems and lung functions of children who have lived their entire lives with vog; and 5) to do longitudinal studies on the lung growth and health of these children.

Tam says researchers have had difficulty studying the long-term effects of vog because of the widespread, rural nature of the Big Island community. She credits Big Island residents for pushing for the program and for their willingness to participate. LAVA will enlist the help of community members to conduct the research, and residents will gather and record data for the scientists to compile in the comprehensive study.

"The Big Island community really wanted to know about vog, and they've been really great about working with us to study the problem," said Tam. Tam is the principal investigator on this multi-agency collaboration, which along with JABSOM also includes the U.S. Geological Service, National Weather Service, UH School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology, Harvard, University of Southern California, and the state Department of Health.