The obvious health risk of any volcano is being in the immediate vicinity, but there are risks involved with the ash cloud that they emit.
If the ash stays in the upper atmosphere, there will be no direct health dangers involved, however, the wind that spread the ash from Iceland’s latest volcano eruption across Europe is a cause for concern.
Conflicting opinions on the overall effect of the ash fall over Europe have resulted in the United Nation’s health agency changing their views, and issuing new statements within a week’s time. On April 16, 2010, the United Nation’s health agency issued a statement, advising those that are already bothered by health problems such as asthma or other respiratory problems, to avoid inhaling any of the ash from Iceland’s Eviafialla volcano. It was also pointed out that most of the particles which were floating around Europe were under 10 microns, a size that is considered to be particularly dangerous since they can penetrate deeper into the lungs.
The World Health Organization also issued advisories and cautioned that that if anyone is experiencing burning or irritated eyes, or throat, or a runny nose, they should stay inside until the ash subsides. Shortly after this WHO advisory, on April 16, Great Britain issued a similar warning for citizens, especially those in Scotland.
Some Northern European countries advised their citizens to stay inside or wear masks if they must go out. But many health experts believe that this was overkill, since they point out that normal everyday pollution and cigarette smoke, are much more dangerous to inhale, and that the composition of the ash cloud is basically microscopic rock. On April 20, the World Health Organization once again issued a statement concerning the volcanic ash, but this time, it was much more positive. This time, the director of the organization, based in Geneva, made the observation that most of the ash cloud was, in fact, staying in the upper atmosphere, and shouldn’t pose a problem to Europeans. It was hoped that most of the ash would remain in the higher elevations, or if it did fall to earth that the wind would either take it out to sea, or that rains will quickly dissipate it’s effects.
Commonsense dictates that anyone who lives in an area where an ash cloud has penetrated, and who are affected, should, of course, stay inside. Those with chronic respiratory problems should be especially cautious and avoid breathing in any of the particles.