The Low-Down on the Hawaii Eruption, Idaho University Loses Plutonium, Nurse Infects Patients with Hep C, and More!

This is the transcript for the news segment on The Morning Brew for May 8, 2018. The show airs Monday-Friday at 10:30 AM EST.

You can catch the edited stream on YouTube here (If not available, it’s probably still uploading/rendering):

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Kilauea Volcano Erupts

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Release Date: May 4, 2018

This is a developing story, so please keep checking the USGS home page, the USGS Facebook page, and the USGS Twitter feed as updates become available.

UPDATE, 5/7/18, 7:45am HST

Eruption of lava and gas continues at a low level along Kīlauea Volcano’s lower East Rift Zone within the Leilani Estates subdivision. Overnight, active emission of lava and spatter at multiple fissures was minimal. This is likely only a pause in activity; additional outbreaks or a resumption of activity are anticipated as seismicity continues in the area. Deflationary tilt at the summit of the volcano continues and the lava lake level continues to drop. There is no active lava in the Puʻu ʻŌʻō area. Aftershocks from Friday’s magnitude-6.9 earthquake continue and more should be expected, with larger aftershocks potentially producing rockfalls and associated ash clouds above Puʻu ʻŌʻō and Halemaʻumaʻu crater. Seismicity at Kīlauea’s summit remains elevated.

USGS/HVO continues to monitor the situation 24/7. Field crews are onsite this morning examining the fissure vents, lava flow, and searching for any signs of new activity.

Lower East Rift Zone Observations

Lava emission from fissures was minimal overnight. Strong degassing continues from several fissures. Yesterday (5/6/18), a lava flow advanced northward from fissure 8 about 0.9 km (0.6 miles) by 10 a.m., HST before stopping. Deformation of the ground in the area has slowed. Ground cracks are reported crossing Highway 130 west of the eruption site.

Overall seismicity in the area has not changed significantly overnight. Earthquakes continue and seismic stations nearest the fissures record seismicity likely related to ongoing vigorous degassing.


This thermal map clearly shows the flow spreading northward (top) from fissure 8 during an overflight of the area. The black and white area is the extent of the thermal map. Temperature in the thermal image is displayed as gray-scale values, with the brightest pixels indicating the hottest areas (whitish areas show the active lava flow). The gray linear features are the other fissures (numbered in red color) that have erupted thus far in the sequence. The thermal map was constructed by stitching many overlapping oblique thermal images collected by a handheld thermal camera during a helicopter overflight of the flow field. The base is a copyrighted color satellite image (used with permission) provided by Digital Globe. (see large map)

(Public domain.)

Summit Observations: Tiltmeters at the summit continue to record a deflationary trend of the past week and the summit lava lake level continues to drop. Elevated summit sulfur dioxide emission rates persist. Current webcam views are here:

Elevated earthquake activity in the summit area is continuing following Friday’s magnitude-6.9 earthquake and as the summit area continues deflating and rockfalls continue within the Overlook vent.

Puʻu ʻŌʻō Observations: A tiltmeter on the Puʻu ʻŌʻō cone continues to record the deflationary pattern that followed collapse of the crater floor on April 30. Rockfalls from the steep crater walls will likely continue to collapse intermittently, producing small ashy plumes. The 61g lava flow is no longer active.

Hazard Analysis: Continued eruptive activity (fluctuating and intermittent) in the lower East Rift Zone is likely. New outbreaks or resumption of lava production at existing vents can occur at any time.

Areas downslope of erupting fissures are at risk of lava inundation. The general area of Leilani Estates remains at the greatest risk. However, as the eruption progresses, other areas of the lower East Rift Zone may also be at risk.

High levels of volcanic gas including sulphur dioxide are being emitted from the fissure vents. In addition, smoke from burning houses and burning asphalt is a health concern and should be avoided.

As the lava lake level inside Halemaʻumaʻu drops, rockfalls from the enclosing walls may increase in frequency prompting explosions of spatter from the lake onto the nearby crater rim and lofting plumes of ash. Dustings of ash from these events can occur downwind.

Additional aftershocks from the magnitude-6.9 earthquake are expected and some may be strong. Residents are advised to review earthquake preparedness by consulting available resources such as:

Residents of the Puna District should remain alert, review individual, family, and business emergency plans, and watch for further information about the status of the volcano.

Hawaii County Civil Defense messages regarding conditions, warning, and evacuations may be found at

Press release

Hawaii residents ride out uncertainty as lava devours more Big Island homes

About 1,700 Leilani Estates residents were ordered to evacuate amid threats of fires and “extremely high levels of dangerous” sulfur dioxide gas. Fissures have been opening up and for days, hot steam and noxious gases rose from the vents, before magma broke through, with some lava fountains shooting as high as 330 feet into the air — taller than the tip of the Statue of Liberty torch. As of Monday, at least 10 fissures were reported in Leilani Estates, according to the county civil defense agency. Lava spouted along the vents and oozed through the neighborhood, leaving lines of smoldering trees in its wake and igniting cars and buildings. So far, lava has destroyed at least 35 structures, 26 of which were homes, the agency said Monday. Officials say more outbreaks are likely to occur along the rift zone, and it’s unclear so far how long they will continue or where new fissures might form. Geologists don’t have a time table when everything will calm down. The fact that there are still eruptions from so many new fissures forming suggests the lava is from a new batch of magma rising from deep within the volcano. Meanwhile, hundreds of evacuees have been waiting it out at local churches, Red Cross shelters or elsewhere on the island, wondering when — or if — they can return home. Over the weekend, residents placed ti leaves in some of the cracks in the roads, meant as a sacred offering to Pele who is their volcano goddess and the one who is supposedly losing her mind as of late. The lava, many residents said, was an integral part of the life there, to be dealt with like heavy snowfall in Upstate New York or humidity in Florida. The nearby national park, perhaps, is where the power of the lava — and the volcano from which it comes — is treated with the most deference. Still, a handful of residents have refused to budge as in not leaving their homes until they really have to evacuate. One remarked on how he wouldn’t leave till the lava was an inch from his house. The county civil defense agency on Sunday announced certain Leilani Estates residents could return briefly to their homes to retrieve pets, medicine or important items left behind — but would need to leave immediately afterward because of “the very unstable conditions of air quality and of the roads.” But on Monday, officials said no one would be allowed to return after all because conditions were too unstable. They continued to urge residents to evacuate, given a triple whammy of threats: lava spewing forth from below; earthquakes — including the strongest to hit Hawaii in more than four decades — jolting the Big Island’s residents; and noxious fumes in the air. Nearly 2,000 people on Hawaii’s Big Island have been evacuated from homes after lava eruptions destroyed several homes.


Hawaii’s silent danger: Volcanic smog, otherwise known as ‘vog’

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There’s another danger to this volcanic eruption the silent and often unseen, that has been with Hawaiian residents and visitors forever in varying degrees. In Hawaii they call it “vog,” short for volcanic smog. It’s not a killer, in and of itself. But it has made tens of thousands sick over the years, feeling as if they have pneumonia or a horrible headache or bronchitis. For those with asthma or other respiratory conditions, it’s worse. In most of Hawaii, most of the time, there is no vog. People can breathe easy. But if the winds are unfavorable, vog can spread far from the volcano on the Big Island to affect people as far away as Oahu, 200 miles to the northwest, as it did in 2008 and 2016. The original source of vog is the sulfur dioxide now spewing from the fissures and vents near Kilauea. Once it’s spewed out the sulfur dioxide reacts in the atmosphere with sunlight, oxygen and other gases, the result is a form of air pollution not unlike that given off by sulfurous coal-burning power plants. Where vog goes depends on the wind. When Hawaii’s famous trade-winds are active, it can be dispersed out to sea. When trade-winds are light or disappear altogether, the sulfur dioxide “sort of pancakes out” from the fissure. Vog, which mainly consists of water vapor, carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide, can appear as “hazy air pollution.” It can also contain several other compounds such as hydrogen sulfide, hydrogen fluoride and carbon monoxide, all of which are harmful to people, according to the Geological Service. However, of the three primary gases, sulfur dioxide, which has an acrid smell reminiscent of fireworks or a burning match, is the “chief gas hazard in Hawaii,” the service reported. According to the Hawaii Interagency Vog Information Dashboard, short-term symptoms could include eye, nose, throat and skin irritation; coughing and phlegm; chest tightness and shortness of breath; increased susceptibility to respiratory ailments; and in some cases, fatigue and dizziness. Exposure is especially dangerous for people who have respiratory conditions such as asthma or emphysema, because they are more sensitive to the effects of vog. The gas of course is far worse when coming from the fissures. Breathing the gas for even a short period of time can lead to long-term irritation and damage to a person’s nasal passages, throat, and even lungs and breathing tubes. So what about using gas masks? Well gas Masks need to be properly fitted and equipped with the right cartridges to filter gases and even before purchasing a high-quality mask, people should still take a lung function test to ensure their lungs are “sufficiently robust and healthy.” Don’t use the cheap dust particle masks either or any masks that a hardware store tends to sell. The best piece of advice though would be not to be around where the gas is the strongest. Just saying.


People have tried to stop lava from flowing. This is why they failed

Once the fissures open and the hot stuff starts flowing, it’s best to not fight nature. “The flows cannot be stopped, but people have tried in the past,” said Benjamin Andrews, director of the Global Volcanism Program at the Smithsonian Nation Museum of Natural History. Flows can and have been diverted, though. The most famous example, Andrews cites, was in 1973 when the Eldfell volcano exploded on Heimaey, a small island in Iceland. In other cases bombs were used in attempts to divert a lava flow, but that didn’t work.

Andrews said there were several challenges with stopping lava flow. For starters, lava is dense. “It may flow like sticky syrup, but is more dense than cement,” he said. This means there’s no point in putting up Jersey walls in front of a flow because the lava will “bulldoze them out of the way.” Some have thought to spray the lava flow with water, hoping it’ll cool and freeze the front of the flow. Nope, the extreme heat behind the crust, which is still molten, will allow the flow to continue. Andrews did say that flows can be diverted, but then there’s the problem of where the diverted lava goes.

The lava has flowed. The damage is done. Now, there’s getting rid of the rock that’s left from the flow. “In most instances the rock is left in place,” Andrews said because the volume of rock and the effort required to break it apart and remove it is generally cost-prohibitive. But sometimes, it needs to be done. Like in October 2014 when the Kilauea volcano erupted, lava crossed over a major road called Cemetery Road, according to County of Hawaii Public Works Department. Crews removed the lava that blocked the roadway and a restoration project began. The solidified lava became an attraction for a while. The project to removed the lava and restore Cemetery Road began in October 2015 and was completed in December 2015. The project, public works said, was completed within the $150,000 budget.


Idaho State University loses weapons-grade plutonium capable of making a dirty bomb

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A small amount of radioactive, weapons-grade plutonium about the size of a U.S. quarter is missing from an Idaho university that was using it for research, leading federal officials on Friday to propose an $8,500 fine. The weapons-grade plutonium is too small to make a nuclear bomb, but could be used in a dirty bomb, according to a regulatory commission. Dr. Cornelis Van der Schyf, vice president for research at the university, blamed partially completed paperwork from 15 years ago as the school tried to dispose of the plutonium. “Unfortunately, because there was a lack of sufficient historical records to demonstrate the disposal pathway employed in 2003, the source in question had to be listed as missing,” he said in a statement to The Associated Press. “The radioactive source in question poses no direct health issue or risk to public safety.” The school, which reported the material missing on Oct. 13, was hit with an $8,500 fine and has 30 days to dispute the measure. The plutonium was being used to develop ways to ensure nuclear waste containers weren’t leaking and to find ways to detect radioactive material being illegally brought into the U.S. following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.


Sessions: Parents, children entering US illegally will be separated

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The Trump administration plans to take a tougher approach to families that enter the U.S. illegally by separating parents from their children, instead of keeping them in detention together. “If you are smuggling a child then we will prosecute you, and that child will be separated from you as required by law,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Monday at a law enforcement conference in Scottsdale, Arizona. “If you don’t like that, then don’t smuggle children over our border.” Administration officials explain that the goal of the program is 100 percent prosecution of all who enter the US illegally. When adults are prosecuted and jailed, their children will be separated from them, just as would happen for a US citizen convicted and jailed. Adults charged with illegal entry will be turned over to U.S. Marshals and sent directly to federal court. Their children will be transferred to the Office of Refugee Resettlement, part of the Department of Health and Human Services, which refers them to relatives in the US or to shelters run by private organizations. The Department of Homeland Services says 700 children have been separated from their parents since the fiscal year began last October. A first conviction for illegal entry carries a maximum jail term of six months. Last week, he sent 35 federal prosecutors to the southwest border region and 18 immigration judges to help deal with the increase in border crossing cases. The new approach applies only to people arrested for attempting to enter the US illegally. The children of adults who present themselves at a designated port of entry and seek asylum will not be separated from their parents, administration officials said. Opponents of the tougher enforcement policy strongly condemned the new approach. “This administration is set on tearing families apart, detaining immigrants without justification,” said Vedant Patel of the Democratic National Committee.


Iraq’s displaced forgotten in elections

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In “Camp Seven” in the western Anbar province not a single campaign poster can be seen appealing to those who have the right to cast their ballot at the parliamentary vote on May 12. The rows of UN tents are part of nine sprawling encampments in the region housing thousands of people who fled the devastating fight against the Islamic State group.

Some five months after the Iraqi government declared victory over the jihadists they remain stuck in the desert camp — and apparently ignored by the country’s politicians. For many of the residents the disinterest shown by the election candidates is mirrored by their own antipathy to those running. Going into the polls, Iraq is only just starting to recover from the years of IS dominance over swathes of the country and the punishing fight to end it. Out of a total displaced population of around two million people, some 285,000 are registered to vote, according to the electoral commission. 166 polling stations are being installed in 70 displaced camps, spread across eight of the country’s 18 provinces. In a bid to encourage the displaced to vote, election officials say identification requirements have been eased for those in the camps. Many are afraid of finding themselves in a difficult situation, because they have done nothing to help the return of the displaced.  One candidate, running on a list for Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s Shiite-dominated Victory Alliance in Samarra, north of Baghdad is blunt in explaining why he has stayed away from two nearby camps. “We have not put up any posters and did not move (around there) because most families are Daesh,” alleges Jassem al-Joubouri, using an Arabic term for IS. Elsewhere in the country some have made an effort at trying to represent the interests of the displaced. Abdel Bari Abbas, fled his home west of the former IS bastion of Mosul, and is now standing as a candidate. “The problems will not be solved without us and I promised myself that even if I am elected, my family and I will stay in the camp.”


Man mauled to death while trying to take selfie with a bear

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A man trying to take a selfie with an injured bear was mauled to death in India on Wednesday, the latest in a string of selfie-related fatalities in the country. The victim, Prabhu Bhatara, was returning from a wedding in the Pharsaguda area of the eastern Indian state of Odisha with several others when he stopped his car near a forest to attend to “nature’s call.” He spotted an injured bear and tried to snap a selfie with the animal. Amateur footage broadcast by several Indian news networks shows the victim being mauled by a bear while another person tries to ward off the animal using a stick. A stray dog can also be seen attacking the bear. The victim, engaged in a fist-to-claw fight with the bear, manages to stand up briefly, before being dragged down to the ground again. The bystanders “were busy shooting the incident on their mobile phones instead of trying to rescue him.” Bhatara died on the spot. After killing Bhatara, the bear did not move from the side of the road. Bhatara’s body was recovered only after forest officials arrived and tranquilized the bear.


Washington nurse arrested for infecting patients with hepatitis C

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A Washington nurse accused of infecting at least two patients with hepatitis C was arrested last week. Cora Weberg, 31, could face second-degree assault charges as prosecutors claim she stole inject-able drugs from Puyallup’s Good Samaritan Hospital, where she worked. “Good Samaritan and local and state health department officials have conducted a thorough investigation and determined that one of our nurses was removing higher-than-normal amounts of narcotics from our dispensing system and admitted to diverting medications intended for patients,” the MultiCare Health System said in a safety alert last week. The hospital system said it informed two patients treated in December 2017 by the nurse that they were infected with the disease while at the hospital. Multi-care Health System encouraged people who visited the emergency room between August 2017 and March to be tested. Puyallup police said Weberg, who has hepatitis C, “intentionally contaminated medicine or another substance with her own blood.” However, Good Samaritan Hospital workers previously was “surprised” to learn she had the virus after she took a test in March. Weberg’s attorney, Bryan Hershman, said there is no connection between the outbreak and the nurse. “They need to have a scapegoat,” Hershman speaking of the hospital. “They can draw no connection to my client, none, and they’ve tried,” he said. “So what they know is, they’re facing civil litigation, and they’ve got to find a scapegoat. What better person than someone who’s got some narcotics issues, right?” The Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department has established a link between the viruses both patients contracted while at the hospital. However, health investigators were unable to conclusively find a genetic link between Weberg and the patients. She also reportedly said her exposure to hepatitis C was not strong enough for her to be able to infect other people. According to MultiCare, hepatitis C affects the liver when the virus enters a person’s system, usually through exposure to an infected person’s blood. It is typically transmitted through the sharing of needles, according to the hospital. Although most people do not experience symptoms, they can include vomiting, stomach aches or yellow skin or eyes. MultiCare promised to provide free treatment to anyone who was infected while receiving care at its hospital. With treatment, an infected person should be cured of hepatitis C.


Stories are edited by Merlin Wolfhound and the show is produced and directed by Maddy
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