Thursday morning Hawaii’s Kilauea shot ash and smoke into the air and blew a volcanic cloud that could reach 30,000 feet into the sky. The volcano has been spewing lava for weeks, prompting thousands of nearby residents to evacuate. Volcanic ash can prompt a multitude of health risks…not only from a particulate standpoint but also from the sulfur dioxide levels. Sulfur dioxide is a colorless, though stinky gas that can cause irritation to skin, eyes, and respiratory system linings.
Let’s break these health risks down:
Volcanic ash can irritate the respiratory passages causing the following symptoms:
- Runny nose
- Sore throat
- Mucous production
- Shortness of breath
- Painful breathing
Those with asthma, COPD, chronic bronchitis or other respiratory ailments may find themselves having exacerbations of their symptoms. Oxygen requirements will increase. Those requiring oxygen or inhalers will need to have extra supply during this time (medical offices may be closed during ash clean up so don’t wait until the last minute.)
Volcanic ash has large and small particles that can irritate the eyes increasing their sensitivity to light and making vision difficult. Moreover ash can irritate the cornea and conjunctiva causing redness, discharge and itching.
Skin may become irritated during these times and those with skin allergies or eczema may find themselves having flare-ups.
During a volcanic eruption, smoke plumes not only change the air quality but also visibility. During times of day when there is less light, road visibility obscures pedestrians and nearby cars. Drivers are urged to avoid the road during these smoky times.
Water quality can become affected by the ash or pH changes if supply becomes contaminated. Moreover, water use increases for cleanup so shortages may ensue.
Short blood supply
Those who donate blood in nearby areas may be less likely to donate during this difficult time leading to local blood shortages. Those who can donate blood are urged to contact the American Red Cross, United Blood Services, or Blood Bank of Hawaii.