As Eyjafjallajökull continues to erupt and pump toxic gases and ash into our atmosphere many people are concerned about the health implications. The danger of being present when a volcano erupts is obvious, but what about the effects the eruption has on the rest of the world. Is our health in any danger? Who is likely to be most at risk? And do we need to take any precautions?
Well as you can imagine, where you live is going to be the deciding factor on the dangers to your health. So we will consider three specific areas, those within the immediate vicinity of the volcano, those under the large ash cloud and then the rest of the world.
So first of all let’s look at the area around the volcano. You can confine this area to the Icelandic mainland and any nearby islands. This area is most at risk. The initial dangers from the eruption have probably passed, the danger of flooding and landslides will be less now than they were. However the ash contains a high level of fluoride, a chemical that can damage the bones of both humans and animals. This is bad news for the livestock of Iceland as they can easily ingest this chemical and this can even lead to death.
Other dangers for the people of Iceland are the risks of breathing in ash or getting it in the eyes. The ash particles are particularly dangerous to asthma suffers as the ash can inflame the lungs and make breathing more difficult. You may also notice irritation of the eyes, they may start to itch and you may have to wash them to remove small particles of ash and dust.
If you are travelling to Iceland or maybe you already live there, it is a good idea to wear a mask over your mouth when out in the ash, short term exposure should cause no major problems, but if you are spending a long time outdoors in the ash you should take precautions. If you are unsure check local news as to the dangers of the ash and the likelihood that it will effect you.
Next let us look at areas where the giant ash cloud has spread. This could be pretty much and where in Europe. World Health organisations have said the ash cloud is not dangerous while it stays up in the atmosphere. If the cloud lowers the dangers are still only slight. It is thought the particles in the ash cloud are very small which means they can enter the lungs, but again the real dangers are thought to be only minimal.
People with asthma, or other respiratory problems are going to be most at risk. If the cloud does descend, again wearing a small mask over the mouth will minimize any potential health risks. Experts believe though that spending five minutes in the company of a smoker would be much more damaging to your health than spending time outside with the ash cloud in the atmosphere. Other than these small risks there are thought to be no other dangers to the public’s health.
So what about the rest of the world? Well if you are not below the ash cloud there should be no risk what so ever. The only dangers are if the ash cloud moves and drifts over different areas, so for most people this would not be any major concern.
Although this Icelandic volcano has hit the news in a massive way, mainly due to the travel chaos it has caused, this is not a particularly big eruption in comparison to others we have seen previously. History shows us that there have been many larger volcano’s over the years and they have had quite an effect on the planet. However the dangers from Eyjafjallajökull are only minimal and there is certainly no need for any major concern.