Volcanic eruptions are often dubbed as a beautiful disaster. The flowing lava and the spectacle of cloud columns never fail to ignite a sense of awe among onlookers. But did you ever consider the health threats of volcanic eruptions?
No matter how jaw-dropping this natural catastrophe may be, it is still dangerous in every sense of the word. Volcanoes emit a plethora of pollutants into the air during eruptions. These pollutants, both visible and not, travel for several thousands of miles.
Erupting volcanoes and their pollutants are the main culprits behind respiratory diseases. Read on below to learn the shocking truth about this debacle.
The Dangers of Fine Particulates from Volcanoes
Volcanoes emit volcanic ash that contains particulates of minerals, rocks, and glass that are extremely tiny in size, allowing them to penetrate your organs and bloodstream. Numerous studies have documented the health effects of these particulates, specifically PM10 and PM2.5. Research points out these particulates as the main reason why communities near erupting volcanoes suffer from negative health effects.
There is a greater risk when smaller particulates enter the human body. Ash particulates that are smaller than 4 micrometers may trigger chronic respiratory diseases.
Volcanic Gases and Their Health Risks
Aside from the particulates, gases from erupting volcanoes are also very harmful to humans. CO2 and SO2 are the two primary gases from volcanoes that can pose serious risks to humans in high concentrations.
Exposure to high SO2 levels for only 3 minutes is more than enough to set off a respiratory attack in an asthma patient. CO2 can also be precarious in low-elevated areas near the eruption. Tiny pockets with spiked CO2 concentrations can also form. And worse, CO2 can be fatal once the concentrations go beyond 15%.
Increased Risk of Respiratory Issues Due to Exposure to Volcanic Ash
Research that looked into volcanic eruptions and their effects on the health of residents living in nearby communities discovered an increased occurrence of different respiratory problems.
West Indies’ Soufrière Hills Volcano has had intermittent eruptions for more than two years. A study looked into the volcanic ash’s effects on 440 students who were 12 years old and below. Researchers learned that the frequency of wheezing among kids who had moderate or heavy exposure to the volcanic ash was three to four times higher compared to those with low exposure.
High volcanic ash exposure can induce different health issues even in healthy people. The most common symptoms include uncomfortable breathing, nasal and throat irritation, and chest discomfort. While these are often short-lived symptoms, there is still the risk that the respiratory effects will last for a long time.
Volcanic Eruptions and How They Exacerbate Respiratory Disease Symptoms
Tiny PM2.5 ash particulates are known to activate chronic respiratory diseases including asthma and silicosis. Volcanic eruptions can also worsen the symptoms of respiratory diseases including bronchitis and asthma. Pre-existing respiratory diseases are shown to be a major risk factor in suffering from adverse effects of volcanic eruptions.
The health threats of volcanic eruptions should never be taken for granted. You’re lucky if there’s no volcano near your area but if there is one, it’s better to be safe than sorry.