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Hawaii volcano creates toxic steam clouds as corrosive as diluted battery acid

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Authorities on Sunday warned the public that as molten rock from Kilauea volcano poured into the ocean, a toxic steam cloud has formed due to a chemical reaction when lava touches seawater.

Scientists said the acid in the plume was about as corrosive as diluted battery acid.

The hazardous cloud billowing from where lava is pouring into the ocean off Hawaii’s Big Island may spread as far as 15 miles downwind.

Scientists said the steam clouds at the spots where lava entered the ocean were laced with hydrochloric acid and fine glass particles that can irrigate the skin and eyes and cause breathing problems.

The lava haze, or “laze,” from the plume was just offshore and running parallel to the coast, said U.S. Geological Survey scientist Wendy Stovall.

Getting hit by it might feel like being sprinkled with glitter.

“If you’re feeling stinging on your skin, go inside,” Stovall said. Authorities warned that the plume could shift direction if the winds changed.

Kilauea has burned some 40 structures, including two dozen homes, since it began erupting in people’s backyards in the Leilani Estates neighborhood on May 3. Some 2,000 people have evacuated their homes, including 300 who were staying in shelters.

Joseph Kekedi, an orchid grower who lives and works about 3 miles from where lava dropped into the sea, said luckily the flow didn’t head toward him. At one point, it was about a mile upslope from his property in the coastal community of Kapoho.

He said residents can’t do much but stay informed and be ready to get out of the way.

“Here’s nature reminding us again who’s boss,” Kekedi said.

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