First it was lava, then acid rain and vog. Now, residents near Hawaii’s erupting Kilauea volcano confronted a new threat Monday: laze, a toxic cloud mashup of lava and haze.
Laze forms when hot, 2,000-degree lava hits the cooler sea water. It’s a hydrochloric acid steam cloud that billows into the air, along with fine particles of glass.
“Lava entering the ocean causes a chemical reaction and can result in small explosions, sending tiny particles of hydrochloric acid and volcanic glass in the air,” said Jessica Johnson, a geophysicist at the University of East Anglia in the United Kingdom.
The acid in the plume is about as corrosive as diluted battery acid, scientists say. Laze can cause irritations of the skin, eyes and lungs, and those suffering from asthma or emphysema may be particularly vulnerable.
Once formed, the effects of the laze plume are literally blowing in the wind.
Laze has been a deadly threat in the past: “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,” the Hawaii Volcano Observatory said.
Bush fires have also been reported, Johnson said, adding smoke to the airborne health hazards.
Scientists do not know how long this eruption episode, which began May 3, will last.
The volcano has opened more than 20 vents, including four that have merged into one large crack. It has been gushing lava high into the sky and sending a river of molten rock toward the ocean at about 300 yards per hour.
The rate of sulfur dioxide gas shooting from the ground fissures tripled, bringing additional air quality concerns. At the volcano’s summit, two explosive eruptions unleashed clouds of ash.
Kilauea has burned about 40 structures, including two dozen homes, since the eruption began. Nearly 3,000 earthquakes have also been recorded over the past month.
Yet, with more than 2,000 residents under evacuation, life largely goes on as normal on much of the Big Island. The tourism industry is still in full swing, and the island’s airports remain open.