Europe Under Health Warning Due to Volcanic Ash
The World Health Organization (WHO) has issued a health warning to Europeans on Friday due to the falling ash from the eruption of Icelandic volcano under the Eyjafjallajokul glacier The ash is coming down in Norway and Scotland, and is expected to move southward throughout Europe. In particular, those with respiratory conditions should stay indoors unless it is absolutely necessary to go outside.
Ash is made up of fine particles of fragmented volcanic rock. It can have an acidic coating that can cause itchy eyes, minor skin irritation, sore throat or dry cough in most people. In addition, volcanic eruptions also release sulfur dioxide and other gases. A study of people living near the Hawaiian volcano Kilauea found that those exposed to the gases had a higher rate of similar symptoms plus an increased risk of diagnosed bronchitis.
But those with conditions such as asthma, emphysema, COPD, or heart disease are at a greater risk. The particles can lead to irritated airways, causing them to compress, or cause the lining to make more secretions inducing coughing and heavy breathing.
Volcanic ash also contains silica, which can cause chronic health conditions such lung disease and heart problems. Inhaling silica can lead to a condition called silicosis, an incurable, irreversible scarring of the lungs that progresses even after exposure has ended. Silicosis also increases the risk of developing lung cancer.
Those in the area closest to the volcano are obviously at a greater risk. Authorities in Iceland are warning people living under the ash plume to use masks and protective goggles when outside.
Some organizations do not expect any long-term effects from the volcanic ash. Britain’s Health Protection Agency says that the concentration of ash particles that reach the ground “is likely to be low and not cause serious harm.” The International Volcanic Health Hazard Network say that there is “almost no risk to people” from this particular ash eruption, because the ash will dilute as it crosses the oceans and waterways as it travels outward from Iceland.
Health officials are certain that the ash will not cause any ill health effects in the United States, except, however, for the acute stress travelers might feel from not being able to fly into or out of European airports because the ash is too dangerous for aircraft to fly through.