Global Health Nursing: Assessment of population health effects from volcanic air pollution exposure

Monday, 18 November 2013: 3:35 PM

Bernadette M. Longo, PhD, RN, CNL
Orvis School of Nursing, University of Nevada, Reno, Reno, NV

Learning Objective 1: Identify cardiorespiratory effects associated with exposure to volcanic air pollution and environmental concerns for communities near active volcanoes.

Learning Objective 2: Describe the role of nursing in multidisciplinary teams working with environmental global health issues from natural pollution sources.

Emissions from active volcanoes expose nearby populations to a natural source of gas and particle air pollution both during and between eruptions. Nearly 600 million people live in proximity to Earth’s 1,300 active volcanoes.  Investigations are beginning to estimate exposure and examine health effects from eruptions, thereby providing support for multi-disciplinary efforts that will enhance population health.  The eruption of Kīlauea Volcano (Hawai`i, USA) produces volcanic smog on the island, called vog. Since 2008, air quality for sulfur dioxide gas exceeds standards almost daily in nearby communities, ranking Kīlauea as the largest point source in the United States. The purpose of this environmental-epidemiological nursing study was to compare the health status of vog-exposed and unexposed groups in the natural setting. Prevalence of cardiorespiratory signs, symptoms and diseases was estimated from a probability-based sample of 220 adult residents. Qualitative descriptions of perceived health and environmental effects were also collected.  Vog exposure was significantly associated with increased odds of a daily cough, phlegm, rhinorrhea, sore or dry throat, shortness of breath without exertion, sinus congestion, continual wheezing, eye and skin irritation, and diagnosed hypertension. Significantly higher average systolic and diastolic blood pressure (p = .045; p = .002), and lower blood oxygen saturation (p = .008) were detected in the vog-exposed group. Half of the study participants believed that since 2008, the intensified eruption had negatively affected their health. These findings support the hypothesis that exposure to sulfurous air pollution from degassing volcanoes is associated with cardiorespiratory health effects. Nurses in volcanic areas around the world have the opportunity to contribute to multi-disciplinary teams in development of public health and risk reduction interventions before an eruption, promptly assess health effects and treat the population during and after an eruption, and continually advocate for these vulnerable populations.