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Hawaii facing new danger from volcano: 'Laze'

By Ed Adamczyk
Hawaii's Kilauea volcano emitted gas, steam and ash on Sunday, as lava flowed to the ocean to set up "laze," or lava haze, a condition that could bring hydrochloric acid and small glass particles into the air. Photo courtesy of U.S. Geologic Survey
Hawaii's Kilauea volcano emitted gas, steam and ash on Sunday, as lava flowed to the ocean to set up "laze," or lava haze, a condition that could bring hydrochloric acid and small glass particles into the air. Photo courtesy of U.S. Geologic Survey

May 21 (UPI) -- Lava from Hawaii's Kilauea volcano is approaching the ocean, and the Hawaii Volcano Observatory is warning of a new danger if the two meet.

A product the observatory calls "laze," or lava haze, could be produced when hot lava reacts to cold sea water, bringing a dense plume of steam, hydrochloric acid and fine shards of glass into the air.

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The hydrochloric acid is created by the chemical reaction between the lava and the seawater, said observatory spokeswoman Janet Babb. The glass particles are formed when lava touches seawater and then breaks apart.

While a store-bought respirator can block the glass particles, it will not filter out hydrochloric acid, which can irritate skin and eyes and cause breathing difficulties, Babb added.

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The plume of laze is expected to reach 15 miles in a direction parallel to the coastline on Monday. Officials have warned people to stay away from the coast on the southeast part of the state's Big Island, where volcanic activity has been occurring since May 3.

Further inland, reported Sulphur dioxide emissions have tripled and at least 40 structures have been destroyed by rivers of flaming lava. The Kilauea volcano erupted twice over the weekend, with one eruption sending ash up to 10,000 feet in the air. It prompted two volcanoes of 5.0-magnitude and 4.9-magnitude, among over 2,000 smaller earthquakes observed on the island since the start of the volcano's activity.

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Brush fires sparked by the lava flow are also threatening homes, the Hawaii County Civil Defense Agency said Saturday.

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Nearly two dozen fissures have cracked open in the ground, emitting lava and sulfur dioxide. Residents in the area have been evacuated, and the first report of an eruption-related injury was reported on Saturday. Hawaii County Fire Department officials said a homeowner was on his third-floor balcony when he was struck with lava spatter, breaking his lower leg. Officials reminded residents that "lava bombs" can weigh as much as a refrigerator and even small pieces of spatter can be lethal.

Lava samples from one fissure contained andesite, a rock not usually seen in volcanic eruptions in Hawaii, U.S. Geological Survey volcanologist Wendy Stovall said. She added that the presence of andesite indicates that the lava in the fissure may have come from magma stored in an underground reservoir dating to before the mountain's 1955 eruption, or possibly as early as the 1924 or 1840 eruption.

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