Public Health

People exposed to ash fall and subsequent ash filled air commonly experience various eye, nose, and throat problems. Based on experiences from historical eruptions, short-term exposures to volcanic ash, is not known to pose a significant health hazard. Long-term health effects of volcanic ash have not yet been demonstrated.

People should avoid unnecessary exposure to ash and wear an effective face mask when outside to reduce inhalation of ash particles. Patients with chronic bronchitis, emphysema, and asthma should take special precaution to avoid exposure to ash particles and be aware that the use of any respirator other than single-use (disposable) respirator may cause additional cardio-pulmonary stress.

Newly fallen volcanic ash may result in short-term physical and chemical changes in water quality. Historical eruptions generally have caused few water-quality problems, and hazardous chemical changes have been reported in only a few cases. The most common change in water quality results from the suspension of ash in open water-supply systems (uncovered reservoirs, lakes, streams, and water-catchment systems). Turbidity limits are easily exceeded by suspended ash. Water-quality monitoring programs can identify changes that may be hazardous and public health authorities will issue warnings if a problem occurs. Adverse affects on covered water supplies are minimal.

Public anxiety about respiratory issues and contamination of water supplies is common after a volcanic eruption. Refer concerns to the Public Health Unit of your local DHB.

The International Volcanic Health Hazard Network has published a guideline about the Health Hazards of Volcanic Ash. A copy can be downloaded from here.