When we think of air pollution emissions, we often imagine smoke plumes from factory stacks and sputtering car exhausts. For local resident Kym and the nearly 200,000 residents of the big island, Hawaii, these emission sources are few and far between. Pollution plaguing the island is from an entirely different source — naturally occurring volcanic activity.
Volcanic smog — referred to by locals as “vog” — has been a near-constant condition of life on the Hawaiian island for more than two decades. In 1983, volcano Kīlauea began erupting more frequently, and only since 2018 has volcanic activity finally slowed.1The visual effect of “vog” on Kailua Kona Town, Hawaii, Hawaii
During the years of activity, as new fissures and openings came to appear on the changing surface of the volcano, air pollution on the island would worsen. It was during one of these events of heightened air pollution that local resident Kym, an asthmatic and outdoor enthusiast, decided to take matters into her own hands to start more accurately measuringpollution levels and informing residents so that they can better protect their own health.
Previously, the nearest governmental air quality monitor was roughly 12 miles away and situated at a point of higher elevation on a mountainside. Locals feared that due to its positioning, the station under-reported the severity of the problem. Without accurate, actionable data, Kym saw many of her friends move away from the island in fear.Kym’s AirVisual Pro (left) displays sustained “unhealthy” readings in Kailua Kona Town. App screenshot (right) compares readings from stations across the island, with stations closer to the volcano showing higher readings than those nearer to the ocean.
While locals came together at town hall meetings with greater urgency, demanding the county add more monitoring stations, Kym’s newly launched station began gaining popularity. The local radio station started reporting daily readings to help guide locals’ outdoor activities.
Since Kilauea volcano stopped fuming as of August 2018, residents of Kailua-Kona are breathing easy again and hoping the clear air lasts. The network Kym helped to establish, meanwhile, remains ready for the day when the active fault opens the Earth’s surface to magma once again.2Kym’s AirVisual Pro (left) displays sustained “unhealthy” readings in Kailua Kona Town. App screenshot (right) compares readings from stations across the island, with stations closer to the volcano showing higher readings than those nearer to the ocean.