Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano continues its activity, and U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) officials are warning residents of possible new dangers. The volcano, which began erupting on June 7, may begin spewing “glass hairs.
The volcanic smog that forms when Kilauea erupts poses a health hazard to residents because it contains high levels of volcanic gases such as H2O, CO2 and SO2. These gases can have far-reaching effects downwind and cause irritation to people’s skin and eyes.
However, the most interesting and dangerous substance that Kilauea can release is “Pele’s hair.” When molten lava comes back down, it can stretch and disintegrate into thin strands of volcanic glass. These thin strands are named Pele’s hair after the Hawaiian goddess of fire and volcanoes. Pele’s hair is more likely to form at high eruption rates, and when they are lower and the strands are not as stretched out, Pele’s tears – small droplets of volcanic glass – may form. Pele’s hairs usually stick to Pele’s tears at first, but break free and travel further through the air.
U.S. Geological Survey officials warn residents not to touch Pele’s hair, as it can be sharp and brittle and can get in the eyes or on the skin. “Imagine breathing in tiny shards of glass,” says former Hawaii Volcano Observatory research geologist Don Swanson. “That’s what Pele’s hairs are. They can ignite and irritate anything that comes in contact with them.”
Strong winds can carry lighter particles over long distances, so residents and visitors to Hawaii should minimize exposure to these volcanic particles, which can irritate skin and eyes.
Kilauea Volcano remains closed to the public as the eruption continues. U.S. Geological Survey officials continue to monitor the situation and warn residents of possible new hazards.