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WHO WARNS AGAINST BREATHING VOLCANIC ASH

 

 

By Culturekiosque Staff

GENEVA, 17 APRIL 2010 — The ash cloud from the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull, the glacier volcano (1666m high) in southern Iceland contains fine particles, similar to those emitted from other sources of particulate matter (PM); but as long as ash remains in the upper atmosphere, there will not likely be an increased risk of health effects, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). 

"Particulate matter is identified according to its diameter. The small particulates less than 10 microns in size are more dangerous because they can penetrate deeper into the lungs," says Dr Maria Neira, Director of Public Health and Environment Department at WHO.


NASA Satellite Images of the Eyjafjallajökull Volcano eruption
Photo courtesy of NASA

Analysis of the ash is ongoing and so far it is estimated about 25% of the particles are less than 10 microns in size.

The wind direction and other meteorological conditions have an impact on where the ash falls to earth.

People with chronic respiratory conditions like asthma, emphysema or bronchitis may be more susceptible to irritation if ash is in the lower atmosphere in high concentrations.


The eruption plume from up close
Photo courtesy of Stromboli online: Volcanic and glacial landforms of Iceland

"Since the ash concentration may vary from country to country depending on the wind and air temperatures, our advice is to listen to local public health officials for the best guidance for individual situations," says Neira. "If people are outside and notice irritation in their throat and lungs, a runny nose or itchy eyes, they should return indoors and limit their outdoor activities."

Eye irritation is a common health effect as pieces of grit can cause painful scratches in the front of the eye and conjunctivitis. Contact lens wearers need to be especially aware of this problem.

In case of increased air pollution from the volcanic eruption, normal precautions are advised, i.e. avoidance of strenuous exercise by people with asthma and respiratory symptoms in days with high air pollution. Health and civil emergency authorities recommend the use of a mask when outside, and it is also recommended to wear protective clothing. If a mask is not available the use a cloth over the mouth and nose to prevent  inhalation of larger particles. 


Eyjafjallajökull plumes
Photo courtesy of
www.visir.is

In addition to health concerns, and as of today, the Icelandic volcano that has kept much of Europe land-bound continues to produce new mini-eruptions that raise concerns about longer-term damage to world air travel and trade.

External Links of Interest

Q & A on the eruption in Eyjafjallajökull

Eyafallajökull: subglacial volcanic eruption aerial photos

The Volcanic Ash Advisory Centres (VAAC)

Health hazards of volcanic ash and what  you can do to protect yourself against volcanic ash.

French-language Islande 2010 blog

The Volcanism Blog: Eyjafjallajökull

BOOK TIP: chosen by the editors as being of interest to Culturekiosque readers.

Björk (Icons of Pop Music)
By Nicola Dibben
 
Paperback: 224 pages
Indiana University Press (April 2009)
ISBN-10: 0253220653
ISBN-13: 978-0253220653
$22.95

Related Culturekiosque Archives

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Olafur Eliasson: The Weather Project

Olafur Eliasson: Reykjavik Art Museum

Björk

Pompeii and the Roman Villa: Art and Culture

A Day in Pompeii

Icelandic Phallological Museum



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