Volcanic ash to health: harmful or not?

16:25, April 19, 2010      

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Smoke and steam hangs over the volcano under the Eyjafjallajokull glacier in Iceland, Wednesday April 14, 2010, (Xinhua/Reuters File Photo)

The World Health Organization Friday warned Europeans not to go outdoors if ash from Iceland's volcano starts settling, while some experts claimed the ash actually doesn't have major effects on people's health and its harmfulness is exaggerated, the Associated Press reported Monday.

According to the WHO, the volcanic ash is potentially dangerous for people because inhaled particles can enter the lungs and cause respiratory problems.

"We're very concerned about it," said Daniel Epstein, spokesman of the WHO, "these particles when inhaled can reach the peripheral regions of the lungs and can cause problems -- especially for people with asthma or respiratory problems."

The spokesman even suggested the Europeans who go outside wearing a mask.

However, experts say once volcanic ash falls from a greater distance, its health effects are often minimal. They said volcanic ash is much less dangerous than cigarette smoke or pollution.

"Volcanic ash is not all that harmful," said Ken Donaldson, a professor of respiratory toxicology at the University of Edinburgh in the UK, "once the volcanic particles are in the stratosphere, they're getting massively diluted because there's a lot of air and other particles blowing around."

He believed that most Europeans' exposure to volcanic ash would be negligible and that only those in the near vicinity of the Iceland volcano would likely be at risk.

Dr. Stephen Spiro, a professor of respiratory medicine and deputy chair of the British Lung Foundation, said the further the particles travel, the more diluted and less dangerous they will be.

Spiro added that to wear masks or stay indoors to avoid volcanic ash is "over the top" and "a bit hysterical."

The volcano in southern Iceland's Eyjafjallajokull glacier has sent an enormous cloud of microscopic basalt ash particles across northern Europe, grounding aircraft across the continent.

Source: Xinhua/Agencies


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