Free Soil/Water Testing


  • NOTE: Free testing concludes Friday, September 21, 2018.
  • For questions regarding the tests, contact:

    Agricultural Diagnostic Center
    (808) 956-6706
  • For free water and soil tests, contact:

    Extension Service
    875 Komohana St; Hilo Hawaii
    (808) 969-8201

Be Prepared for a Volcano (FEMA)

Volcano Preparedness (Red Cross website)

Protecting Yourself During a Volcanic Eruption (Centers for Disease Control website)

Emergency Disaster Education Network (USDA NIFA, NOAA Sea Grant)

Preparing Youth & Volunteers  (to plan for and respond to disasters)

Farm Service Agency Programs

Report farm and ranch land damages (including lava flow) to:

USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) at:
808-933-8381 ext. 2
154 Waianuenue Avenue, Rm 122
Hilo, Hawaii   96720

FSA programs that help eligible farmers and ranchers recover from natural disasters include:

Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program (NAP)
Financial assistance for low yields or crop losses due to natural disaster. (Must already be in the program.)

Emergency Conservation Program (ECP)
Emergency funding and technical assistance to rehabilitate farmland damaged by natural disaster.

Livestock Indemnity Program (LIP)
Assistance for livestock deaths in excess of normal mortality due to natural disaster.

Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honeybees and Farm Raised Fish Program (ELAP)
Assistance for loss of livestock, honeybees and farm-raised fish due to natural disaster. (Covers losses not covered under other disaster assistance programs.)

Tree Assistance Program (TAP)
Financial assistance for eligible orchardists and nursery tree growers to replant or rehabilitate eligible trees, bushes and vines lost due to natural disaster.

Emergency Loan Program
Emergency loans to help eligible producers recover from production and physical losses due to natural disasters. Also inquire about micro loans and operating loans.

Call 933-8381 ext. 2 for more information

Additional Resources

Volcanic Ashfall Impacts & Mitigation — USGS website

Volcanic Activity and Advisories

Hawai‘i Emergency Mangement Agency — current advisories and related information

Volcano Hazards Program — USGS observatory and volcanic activity reports

Hawaii Interagency Vog Information Dashboard ---information concerning vog  and recommendations on plant, animal and human health


Volcanic Emissions


Lava Flow

  • Livestock/Animal Health
  • Plant Health
  • Human Health
  • Bees & Birds
  • Water Quality/Catchment
  • About Acid Rain
  • Soil Testing

Excerpts from: Effect of Volcanic Activity on Hawaii Livestock Operations (M. Thorne,  May 29, 2018)

The recent volcanic activity on the Big Island poses several immediate threats to Livestock production on the southern side of the island.  These include in order of concern:

1. Vog – contains gasses including hydrogen sulfide, sulfur dioxide, hydrogen fluoride, hydrogen chloride, and carbon dioxide (among others).
2. Volcanic Ash – composed of pulverized rock, mineral and volcanic glass.  Of the various mineral components of ash, fluorine concentration is the most significant for livestock health concerns.
3. Seismic activity –earthquakes as a part of the volcanic activity pose some threat to livestock and ranch infrastructure.
4. Lava – livestock and ranch infrastructure in the vicinity of the volcanic activity are in immediate danger, while this threat becomes minimal moving a way from the volcano.


1. Livestock should be moved, as much as feasible, to safety from the lava flows, ash fall, and vog clouds.  This may mean relocating livestock to another part of the island or moving them to a safe elevation above the vog cloud and lava flows.
2. Water sources should be analyzed and monitored for elevated sulfur and fluoride levels to prevent complications with copper absorption that can be brought on by too much sulfur in an animals diet, and Fluorosis (fluoride toxicity) as result of too much fluoride.
3. As much as possible, animals should be moved to pasture that is not affected by vog or ash fall. 
4. Whether animals are moved from affected pasture areas, or they remain, they should be closely monitored for complications like bone loss in the nasal areas, worn/loss of teeth, respiratory problems, digestive issues (bloating, scours, weight loss), behavioral changes, and copper deficiency.
5. Producers in affected areas should consider supplementing cattle and goats with additional copper to mitigate the effect of high sulfur in the diet and Calcium and Vitamin D to help reduce the effects of Fluorosis.  Sheep producers should consult with their cooperative extension agent or a veterinarian before providing additional copper as too much copper can be toxic to sheep.
6. Copper can be supplemented using Copper Sulfate (CuSO4) provided either separately or mixed in with a premixed complete mineral or a Trace Mineral Salt.
7. Calcium can supplemented using dolomite [CaMg(CO3)2] mixed in with a premixed complete mineral or a Trace Mineral Salt.  Vitamin D is most efficiently administered with an injection.  Producers should work with their local veterinarian to determine dosage.
8. Questions and concerns for animal health and welfare can be directed to your local extension agent and/or local veterinarian.

Or Contact: Mark S. Thorne, Ph.D.
Range and Livestock Extension Specialist
University of Hawaii-Manoa, Cooperative Extension   808-887-6183

Advice from 2008 Hawai‘i Deaprtment of Agriculture news release

Livestock owners are advised to closely monitor the health of livestock downwind of the volcano....  Watch for eye irritations, weakness, abnormal behaviors, difficult breathing or any other abnormalities in livestock. Also—

  • Handle livestock judiciously to prevent added stress as animals' ability to withstand working and movement may be compromised by abnormal air quality.
  • Ensure that an adequate supply of clean water is available at all times. A protected water supply is strongly advised. Increase monitoring of watering troughs and cleaning of drinking troughs in the event of ashfall.
  • Consult with veterinarians regarding mineral supplementation, particularly due to the higher than normal sulfur dioxide levels that have been occurring. Sulfur dioxide in the volcanic emissions may deplete livestock of selenium, copper, other minerals and vitamins essential for animal health. 

In some volcanic regions, fluorine toxicity in ash covering grazing pastures is a concern. Consumption of high levels of fluorine may be fatal to livestock.

UPDATE--2018, May 15
Concerns specifically regarding livestock illness or well-being call:

  • (808) 483-7106
  • after hours (808) 837-8092 (Animal Disease Control Branch)

For further information, call Hawaii County Civil Defense:

  • (808) 935-0031
  • after hours (808) 935-3311

Vog Damage on Selected crops, Jan 2009

Selected sites are contrasted on vog and clear days. Crop damage symptoms are examined on selected crops.


Excerpted from CTAHR’s "Volcanic Emissions Injury to Plant Foliage"

Volcanic emissions include SO2 (sulfur dioxide), HCl (hydrogen chloride) and other gases even when lava is not erupting. These acid-precursor gases can adversely affect plants directly or acidify rainfall with severe effect on soils and vegetation, especially near or downwind from the volcano. Volcanic ash emissions are deposited on everything near the volcano, including plants.

Integrated Management of Volcanic Emission to Prevent Injury to Plants

• Flush leaves and flowers with fresh water after their exposure to acid rain or ash.

• Treat acidified irrigation water to raise the pH.

• Grow plants under cover, in greenhouses where possible.

• Grow SO2-resistant plants if possible.

• Selectively and temporarily cover valuable plants with fabric or plastic.

As a possible preventative measure, spray plants with anti-transpirant products to close their stomata or with bicarbonate solution to neutralize acidity. Note: preliminary field tests have shown some promise, but these measures must be more fully tested to scientifically validate their effects.

Additional Resources

Volcanic Ashfall Impacts & Mitigation — USGS website


Excerpted from FAQs on Volcanic Emissions and Health (2005 Dept. of Health) and How to Cope with Hazarous Volcanic Gas Emissions (May 14, 2018  Hawaii Emergency Management Agency news release):

The Hawaii State Department of Health reports that current eruption activity is producing dangerous sulfur dioxide (SO2) gas and other emissions that present hazards to health, especially for the elderly, young children and people with respiratory problems. People who are downwind or close to the vents and lava flows are also at high risk. Exposure to dangerous levels of SO2 is unpredictable; the gas can be carried far from fissures depending on wind speed and direction.

Is vog harmful to my health?

People with pre-existing respiratory conditions (such as asthma or emphysema) are more likely to experience health effects from vog. Effects include headaches, breathing difficulties, increased susceptibility to respiratory ailments, watery eyes and sore throat. Sulfur dioxide SO2 gas is a major component of vog near Kilauea volcano; it is an irritant  usually filtered out by nasal passages. During moderate physical activity that triggers mouth breathing (such as a brisk walk), SO2 can get deep into the airway and  make breathing difficult, particularly those with asthma and other respiratory conditions.

What can I do to protect myself or prepare for possible health effects of vog?

  • If you have asthma or other respiratory conditions, keep daily medications on hand and use as prescribed and have emergency or evacuation medications available. Contact your physician if you don't have prescriptions but think medication may be required.
  • Stay indoors and close the windows and doors tightly. Close outside vents on air conditioners and set to recirculate inside air.
  • Avoid physical activity (especially outdoors), such as brisk walking or exercise.
  • Drink liquids to avoid dehydration.
  • Avoid smoking and second-hand smoke.
  • If you experience asthma symptoms, such as trouble breathing, increased coughing or chest tightness, contact your doctor or seek medical assistance. If you live on the island of Hawai‘i, check for county civil defense advisories and consider leaving the area. Assume that your asthma may get worse during periods of high vog and SO2 emissions.
  • A damp cloth or a paper or gauze surgical or non-toxic dust mask may be help alleviate vog or ash exposure; do NOT use if you find it more difficult to breathe with the mask on. These measures ARE NOT EFFECTIVE in removing dangerous gasses such as (SO2); neither are any other publically available masks, including those designated N-95 (although certified N-95 masks are said to aid aginst volcanic ash). First responders require special masks and training not available to private citizens.
  • Rinse fruits and vegetables grown in vog affected before eating to remove dirt and ash.
  • Discard soft, leafy produce without a skin if exposed to volcanic glass or "Pele's Hair".  Volcanic glass can break and become embedded in produce.  Cooking will not remove volcanic glass.

Leaving the area of volcanic activity or sheltering in place are the best ways to protect yourself and family.

Additional Resources

Health Impacts of Volcanic Ash(International Volcanic Health Hazard Network website)
Volcanic Ash Impacts — Health (USGS website)
Protecting Yourself During a Volcanic Eruption (Center for Disease Control and Prevention website)
Volcano Preparedness (Red Cross website)
Safe Produce: KEEP IT CLEAN (Farm Food Safety website)


Excerpts from “Volcanic Impacts on Honey Bees and Guidelines for Beekeepers: Plan ‘Bee’” (Chrissy Mogren, June 2018)

Based on the limited information available, recommendations to beekeepers are focused on mitigating risks associated with ash and potentially hazardous gas exposure. If possible, transporting colonies to more favorable areas is strongly recommended. If this is not possible, you can discourage foraging on contaminated flowers by reducing or sealing hive entrances and providing supplemental nutrition in the form of sugar water and protein supplements.

Advice from Eben Paxton (Bird Specialist) regarding volcanic emissions and bird life:

Don't use nectar feeders to replace food sources as feeders can spread avian pox between birds.

Please keep cats indoors as birds displaced by volcanic eruptions are more vulnerable to them. Many of these are native amakihis.

Taken from pages 47–52 of Guidelines on Rainwater Catchment Systems for Hawai'i (redacted version, update to come)

Recommendations for Catchment Users Downwind of Volcanic Activity

To minimize ash and debris in your catchment water—

  • Temporarily disconnect your catchment system from the roof until rain has flushed your roof and any ash deposits. Don't reconnect until the deposits are washed off the roof and out of your gutters.
  • Check your gutters, especially if they do not slope, as ash may collect in them. Clean out any deposits in gutters to keep water from mixing with the ash and leaching metals into the catchment water.
  • Use a free-standing or self-supporting canopy to cover mesh tank covers so less debris will get in.
  • If you do not have a first-flush device, consider disconnecting your downspout from the tank until the roof has had a chance to wash off, then reconnect to catch cleaner rain.

Dissolve 1–2 boxes of baking soda in water and add it to your tank every 2–4 weeks to raise the pH of the water to prevent copper and lead from leaching from pipes and fixtures into your water. You may need more, depending on the acidity of your water and size of your tank; too much will make water feel slippery. Food-grade calcium carbonate granules can also be used, but do NOT use large solid calcium carbonate solids, such as limestone, or concrete blocks or tiles.

Water Filters

Use pre-tank filters to keep out larger insoluble debris. A nylon stocking at the end of the downspout (where it goes into the tank) can collect debris; attach securely to prevent the weight of debris and force of the water from detaching stocking.

Filters made from charcoal or carbon blocks can remove lead, copper and other similar contaminants from the water. Look for a list of what contaminants they remove on the outside packaging and an NSF International seal, which verifies the manufacturer’s claims.

Check all water filters regularly to make sure that they can still filter out debris. Keep extra sediment filters on hand for heavy ash fall.

Water Testing

Simple pH test strips are available for purchase from chemical supply stores, swimming pool supply stores and some hardware stores. Local water laboratories can do pH testing; call first to learn how to collect your water appropriately.

The cost of copper and lead water testing is partially subsidized by the Department of Health’s Safe Drinking Water Branch. On the island of Hawai‘i, call 808-933-0401 to make arrangements.

Inexpensive testing for lead and copper through the UH College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources. Because CTAHR’s laboratories are not certified for drinking water, only use the results as a reference (for example, your levels are high or low), rather than focusing on a specific number. To collect your sample—

  1.  Let water run from the faucet for 1–2 minutes
  2. Collect water in a clean, unused plastic bottle. 
  3. The sample should be at least a pint in volume.
  4. Take sample to your nearest Cooperative Extension Service office.

Additional Information

County of Hawai‘i

UH Sea Grant Rainwater Catchment Project website.

Acid Rain, pH Levels and Water Catchment—Q&A

What does pH measure?

A pH number indicates how acidic or basic something is on a logarithmic scale from 0–14. Seven is neutral; numbers below 7 are acidic and above 7 are basic. Rain usually has a pH in the mid- to high-5’s. Less than 5.6 is considered “acid rain.”

What causes acid rain?

The primary cause on the Mainland is pollution from burning fossil fuels that release excessive nitrogen oxides into the atmosphere. In Hawai`i, volcanoes release sulfur dioxides and trioxides into the air, where they react, and combine with water molecules to form dilute acids that return to earth as acid rain.

Why does acid rain matter?

Normally rocks, soil and vegetation act as buffers and neutralize the acid. If the pH is really low, it can damage delicate vegetation and cause ecological damage. In rainwater catchment systems, acid rain can leach metals and other surface and tank coatings and deposit them in the water. This is a particular problem in older homes—typically built before 1979—where roofs might have lead paint, nails, flashings and solder.

Is acid rain a health hazard?

Drinking acidic rainwater isn’t normally a problem; in fact, we drink a lot of acidic drinks and food. However, excessive acid could affect teeth. Like drinking excessive soda or sucking on lemons, constant exposure to acid conditions can compromise teeth’s protective enamel coating.

The biggest concern is exposure to heavy metals and other materials that leach into the water. Copper from water pipes can cause blue/green stains on sinks and tubs. Severe leaching can cause pipes to leak. Having some copper in water is not necessarily a health hazard because humans require some copper; in fact, U.S. diets can be deficient in copper and vitamin C inhibits the body’s intake of copper. However, if you suspect your copper levels are high, and especially if you can taste the copper in your water, get your water tested.


Volcanic ash–derived soils may be rich in plant nutrients, such as iron, magnesium, calcium, potassium, phosphorus and manganese, but freshly fallen ash also can be acidic, changing soil pH. The effect of ashfall depends on the amount of ash deposited and rain leaching through it, and whether the ash can be plowed into the soil.

excerpted from Testing Your Soil: Why and How to Take a Soil-Test Sample

Basic soil analysis provides information on two important soil characteristics:

• Soil pH is a measurement on a scale from acid (low pH) to alkaline (high pH). Most soils are on the acid side of the pH spectrum. Good soils for crop production are often moderately acid, but some soils in Hawai‘i are acidic to the extent that crops grow poorly. Soil tests indicate pH problems and allow recommendations for correcting them.
• Available nutrient levels in the soil indicate how good crop growth will be. Testing for phosphorus (P), potassium (K), calcium (Ca), and magnesium (Mg) helps determine the need for liming material and the appropriate fertilizer formulations and amounts for the crop to be grown.