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EDM Monday Briefing: VAAC Monitoring Volcanic Ash Emissions

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Emergency and disaster management briefing for April 12, 2021: The leak at the Piney Point abandoned wastewater pond has been plugged; seismic activity associated with magma filling the shallow storage of the Mauna Loa volcano continues on Hawaii Island; strong, explosive eruptions at the La Soufrière volcano have sent 13 million cubic feet of ash into the air; 28 turbines with allegedly little chance of being recycled are being replaced at a Dutch wind farm; the Washington VAAC is busy monitoring multiple volcanoes for volcanic ash emissions to determine air travel impacts; researchers note that the lack of new growth on shrubs/vegetation represents a grim outlook for the California wildfire season; Hawaii’s DLNR fined two companies for failing to mitigate risks of aging dams; and three people were killed after severe storms swept across the South over the weekend.

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1. The leaking wastewater at the now-closed Piney Point fertilizer plant reservoir has been plugged. The majority of the 240 million gallons of water pumped out of the reservoir was emptied into Tampa Bay, where its future impact on the environment remains unknown. The wastewater was from an abandoned phosphate plant that made fertilizer, and contains heavy metals — such as cadmium — that are toxic to sea plants and animals. Previous releases of the contaminated water into Tampa Bay have resulted in large algae blooms.

2. A magnitude 3.2 earthquake was one of the largest of 34 quakes to strike the Mauna Loa volcano in Hawaii on Sunday. Over 660 earthquakes have struck Hawaii’s Big Island in the last 30 days. Seismic activity under Mauna Loa began increasing in January, along with deformation rates, consistent with magma supply to the shallow storage system of the volcano. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) is urging residents of the Big Island to ensure they are prepared for the likelihood of a future eruption.

3. The new dome on the La Soufrière volcano that formed in 2021 blew off in explosive eruptions that have sent at least 13 million cubic meters of ash and material into the atmosphere. A total of three violent eruptions occurred on Friday, including one that occurred overnight. Energetic ash venting continues on La Soufrière, and local officials believe that the eruption is already larger than the one in 1979.

4. A Dutch wind farm has reached its 25-year life limit, and its turbines are slated for replacement. Concern is rising over how to dispose of wind turbine blades that have reached their life limits. Blades are proving difficult to recycle, so the current disposal method is to bury the blades — which contain toxic materials — in the ground. In all, there are a total of 28 turbines that are being replaced in the Irene Vorrink wind farm situated along the edge of Lake IJsselmeer, owned by Vattenfall, a Swedish power company.

5. The Washington Volcanic Ash Advisory Center (VAAC) in Camp Springs, Maryland, is monitoring multiple volcanoes, including both the La Soufrière and Popocapétetl volcanoes, for volcanic ash emissions and their trajectories. Volcanic ash, which has a low melting point and is hard and abrasive, poses a significant threat to jet aircraft. An aircraft engine that ingests even a small amount of volcanic ash could rapidly suffer from total engine failure.

6. Researchers from the San Jose State University’s Wildfire Interdisciplinary Research Center ascended Mount Umunhum in the Santa Cruz Mountains on April 2 to sample new shrub growth for Fuel Moisture Content (FMC). Researchers were concerned when they noticed the total absence of new growth on shrubs in the area. According to the researchers, that has never before been observed, and the low FMC may be a grave indicator for the upcoming California wildfire season. High fuel moisture content means wildfires are harder to ignite and are less likely to spread easily after ignition.

7. Officials from Hawaii’s Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) fined two companies that own dams for failing to assess risks on aging dams. The dams are located on Oahu and Hawaii Island, including one owned by the Dole Food Company Hawaii — the Wahiawa Dam on Lake Wilson. The DLNR noted that the spillway on the 115-year-old earthen dam is not large enough to prevent downstream flooding in the event of extremely large rainfall events.

8. Severe storms that included isolated hail, strong winds and a reported 14 tornadoes, killed at least three people when the storms moved through the South over the weekend. One person died when a tornado touched down in St. Landry Parish, Louisiana, and seven others were injured. Another person was killed when a tree fell on his home. Florida bore the brunt of the severe weather on Sunday, with strong winds that tore roofs off buildings, tornadoes and hail.


Kimberly Arsenault serves as an intern at the Cleveland/Bradley County Emergency Management Agency where she works on plan revisions and special projects. Previously, Kimberly spent 15 years in commercial and business aviation. Her positions included station manager at the former Midwest Express Airlines, as well as corporate flight attendant, inflight manager, and charter flight coordinator. Kimberly currently holds a master's degree in emergency and disaster management from American Public University.

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