Volcanoes in Iceland may be
something of an oxymoron but who can question the vagaries of nature?
A pall of gloom had descended
over the traveling class the world over as the volcano, Eyjafjallajokull, erupted in faraway Iceland. Flights were grounded and travelers were stranded for indefinite periods leading to economic turmoil and desperacy.
Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust
Volcanic ash is made up of shreds of rocks and glass all carried forth in a mix of foamy steam. During a volcanic eruption, the magma
which is located deep below the earth is brought to the earth's surface and during this process it becomes depressurized. The magma melts the ice cap (if present) atop the volcano and this generates plenty of steam.
This act of nature is disconcerting as Eyjafjallajokull continued
to cough up more ash and throw it high for all to catch! But not high enough as the ash was ejected only as high as 20,000 feet while it requires to reach a height of 33,000 feet in order to reach the stratosphere and usher in climate change.
Besides there is a bit of bad
history. It has been recorded that in the past, the eruption of
Eyjafjallajokull has always incited its larger neighbor - Katla- to follow
suit. Also, the amount of ash in the air cannot be precisely estimated,
although experts are frantically seeking the help of computers to draw an
Therefore, it is impossible to
predict if the air space above the affected countries is currently safe for
travel although airports in the UK and Netherlands are re opening their air
space amidst a great deal of uncertainties!
According to experts the ash from
the volcano does not pose any health problems except in areas close to Ground
Zero. The WHO has said that small amounts of ash is unlikely to pose a serious
health hazard and that most of the ash is likely to thin out while high up.
Nevertheless, not everything is hunky dory for all concerned.
Low amounts of ash plumes have
settled on the ground in certain areas of Scotland. If more dust and ash
settles on the ground it can have serious health implications. The highest
impact would come from the smallest ash particles that can be deeply drawn into
Some points to keep in mind-
• People exposed to ash may notice symptoms such as itchy eyes, runny nose or cough
• Tearing of the cornea, inflammation or sticky
discharge in the eye may also be seen in some
• People with respiratory
such as bronchitis, emphysema or asthma may experience
discomfort. They may experience worsening of symptoms for a short period
• Sometimes silica could be present in volcanic ash.
Continuous exposure to silica could lead to silicosis
which involves scarring of the lungs
• Certain level of skin
may be expected depending on the level of ash exposure
The British Lung Foundation Spokesman Professor Malcolm
Green said: "We would advise people living with a lung condition in
affected areas to carry their medication as a precaution as they may experience
a short-term worsening of symptoms."
The volcanic ash plumes are also
likely to have traces of sulphur dioxide- therefore if people detect a rotten
egg -like smell, that is characteristic of sulphur, they are advised not to
panic. Sulphur dioxide is not a health hazard at the level currently emitted.
Precautionary measures for the Public
mitigative measures that the general public can follow are mentioned below -
• Make sure you wear protective clothing
• Wear a dust mask if possible. If this is not
available, make an improvised masks from fabric that would act as a filter
• Wet the mask often to improve effectiveness
• Wear goggles or other glasses. Avoid contact lens.
• Avoid unnecessary exposure to ash
• People who are sensitive to dust should try to remain
• Those with respiratory illnesses must keep inhalers
and medications at hand
• If the ash intensity becomes severe it could disrupt
road visibility. Make sure you drive carefully.
• Make sure that children restrict their out door
activity during ash fall
This episode, involving the Icelandic volcano, has
once again exposed human vulnerability in the face of nature's
unpredictability! Be fore-armed by following the precautionary measures to
mitigate the risks involved in the event of volcanic ash exposure!
Dr. Reeja Tharu/L