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Students in Hawaii develop air scrubber for volcanic smog

The students from a small town threatened by lava oozing from a volcano turned to innovation to deal with odours

November 18, 2014  by The Associated Press

HONOLULU—Lava flowing from a Hawaii volcano is inspiring innovation from school children attempting to deal with its effects.

Students from Pahoa’s Hawaii Academy of Arts and Science charter school came up with an idea for an air scrubber for volcanic smog, or vog. The scrubber pulls vog from the air with a fan and neutralizes acidity with a compound similar to baking soda.

As of Nov. 17, Pahoa’s ACE Hardware was selling parts for the scrubber for US$100, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported.

A scrubber assembled by the students goes for US$150. The extra US$50 will go to the Big Island school’s science, technology, engineering and math program to help fund future research.


The students are in a small town threatened by the slow-moving lava, which entered Pahoa last month and burned down a house.

“It feels good to be able to help our community,” student Logan Treaster said. The 17-year-old senior was personally affected by the vog when a classmate had to move away because of sensitivity to it.

The state Health Department previously advised residents near the lava to prepare for smoke from burning vegetation and low levels of sulfur dioxide.

“It smells like rotten eggs,” Treaster said of the odour that permeates the area almost daily.

The civil defence agency said residents with respiratory problems are advised to take precautions and stay indoors.

The students are the brains behind other lava-related ideas, including one similar to new technology the electric company is using to protect poles in the lava’s path. They also have thoughts on a water-cooled bridge that would let drivers cross lava-covered roads.

“We teach giving back,” teacher Eric Clause said. “I also teach the kids: You can work the problem, or you can let the problem work you.”

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