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Guidelines for the public - Health risks due to air pollution from volcanic eruptions

10. Apr 2021

Health risks due to air pollution from volcanic eruptions - Guidelines for the public has been issued. 

The booklet was translated and localised from the IVHHN booklet: The health hazards of volcanic acids and geothermal gases. With the supervision of:  Chief Epidemiologist , Environment Agency of Iceland, The Icelandic Meteorological Office, Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management, University of Iceland Institute of Earth Sciences, National University Hospital of Iceland, Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority, The Icelandic Red Cross, Association of Health Inspection Areas in Iceland and The Icelandic Association for Search and Rescue.

The booklet can be accessed here:

Icelandic
English
Polish

The purpose of this booklet is to describe the possible effects of air pollution on your health and provide information on how you can protect yourself and your family from air pollution during volcanic eruptions.

Most recent SO2 / SO4 gas dispersion forecast is accessible here 
 Gas2_1618055267962

In the vicinity of eruption sites – The public
 

Before heading off: Familiarise yourself with the type of eruption and potential risks regarding pollution. Follow the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management's instructions and check the weather forecast, especially the wind direction. Children and adults with underlying health conditions are more sensitive to pollution from an erupting volcano. 

Children are more sensitive to air pollution and are categorised as a sensitive group. It is not recommended that they stay for longer than 15 minutes in a location where the air pollution is over the health protection limits. This also applies to pregnant women, the elderly and heart and lung patients.

Dress appropriately for the weather and bring snacks.

Inform relatives or friends about your travel itinerary before you leave.
Choose a route according to the wind direction. 

Head off with the wind in your back. Take special precautions in calm weather, as pollution often accumulates in depressions / small valleys. 

Follow the instructions of response units if they are present. If a gas meter warning sounds, retreat immediately and walk upwards. 

Keep a safe distance from the volcano. Pumice (1─64 mm) can be expelled and could hit you. New lava flows can form suddenly. 

Keep away from depressions in the landscape and follow ridges. Volcanic gases are often heavier than the atmosphere and can accumulate in depressions. Volcanic gases are colourless but have different odours. In the immediate vicinity of eruptions, gases can be life-threatening. Special mention should be made of CO2, which is odourless, and H2S, which is associated with the odour of hot springs/ rotten eggs. Be aware that sensitivity to the odour disappears after a certain time. Sudden deaths can occur during a stay in this type of pollution.

Do not stay for long in the vicinity of eruption sites. 

Make your own plan if a warning is issued. Keep calm and walk away from the eruption site. Walk up the nearest ridge or hill and keep to the highest points in the landscape. Breathe through your nose. Exertion will cause you to breathe in more pollutants.

See more in the booklet, e.g. on hazardous gases in the vicinity of active volcanoes and
more on the contents of air pollution due to volcanic eruptions. The distribution of air pollution from active volcanoes, and the possible impacts on peoples health and how you can  protect you and your family from air pollution during a volcanic eruption

The booklet