Bernadette Longo can feel the frustration of doctors in Hawaii, who have for years have treated young asthmatics and individuals with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
Doctors have long suspected that these problems were caused by the eruption of the islands’ numerous volcanoes, particularly for residents living downwind. But there has been on definitive study connecting the eruptions, volcanic air pollution and the health effects associated with them.
To help better understand this phenomenon, Longo, a nursing professor in the Orvis School of Nursing, is conducting a one-of-a-kind research study that has provided the first measures of volcanic-associated cardiorespiratory effects related to downwind exposure to volcanic air pollution.
Longo, a nurse epidemiologist specializing in international health, has visited volcanoes throughout the Americas. Her work in Hawaii has focused on the Big Island’s youngest and southeastern most volcano at Kilauea, which began erupting in 1983 and continues today. Longo has evaluated the health status of adults chronically exposed to Kilauea’s air pollution in the Kau district of Hawaii, a previously unstudied region downwind from Kilauea.
“Based on the results of this study, further investigations to evaluate health effects are vital for the growing populations that reside near active volcanoes,” Longo said.
Longo’s work, which also includes health promotion programs for affected populations, is a critical component in better understanding volcanic air pollution and its impact on downwind populations. In addition to the volcanically active Kilauea, it is estimated that there are more than 500 million people in the world living near active volcanoes.