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Iceland volcanic explosion: WHO allays on fears of adverse health effects

By Sola Ogundipe & Chioma Obinna

FEARS of immediate health reprisals from the volcanic explosion in Iceland may be unfounded. The World Health Organisation (WHO) admits that while volcanic ash contains fine particles similar to those emitted from other sources of particulate matter, but maintains that  as long as the ash remains in the upper atmosphere there will not likely be an increased risk of health effects.

Good Health Weekly gathered that although analysis of the ash emitted from the eruption is ongoing, so far it is estimated about 25 per cent of the particles are less than 10 microns in size. An expert on the issue – Dr Maria Neira, who is Director of Public Health and Environment Department at the WHO, noted that it is the small particulates less than 10 microns in size that are more dangerous because they can penetrate deeper into the lungs.

Iceland Volcanic eruption.

Her words: “People with chronic respiratory conditions like asthma, emphysema or bronchitis may be more susceptible to irritation if ash is in the lower atmosphere in high concentrations.” She said since the ash concentration may vary from country to country depending on the wind and air temperatures, it is advisable for health experts in all countries to listen to local public health officials for the best guidance for individual situations.

“If people are outside and notice irritation in their throat and lungs, a runny nose or itchy eyes, they should return indoors and limit their outdoor activities.”

The recommendation is that in case of increased air pollution, normal precautions are advised, i.e. avoidance of strenuous exercise by people with asthma and respiratory symptoms in days with high air pollution.

WHO will remain in contact with experts monitoring air quality in the affected region, and advises people to follow the latest guidance from their local health officials.


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