Effects of volcanic eruptions on environment and health

Sveuciliste u Zagrebu, Medicinski fakultet, Skola narodnog zdravlja, Zagreb, Hrvatska.
Archives of Industrial Hygiene and Toxicology (Impact Factor: 0.93). 01/2008; 58(4):479-86. DOI: 10.2478/v10004-007-0041-3
Source: PubMed


Volcanoes pose a threat to almost half a billion people; today there are approximately 500 active volcanoes on Earth, and every year there are 10 to 40 volcanic eruptions. Volcanic eruptions produce hazardous effects for the environment, climate, and the health of the exposed persons, and are associated with the deterioration of social and economic conditions. Along with magma and steam (H2O), the following gases surface in the environment: carbon dioxide (CO2) and sulphur dioxide (SO2), carbon monoxide (CO), hydrogen sulphide (H2S), carbon sulphide (CS), carbon disulfide (CS2), hydrogen chloride (HCl), hydrogen (H2), methane (CH4), hydrogen fluoride (HF), hydrogen bromide (HBr) and various organic compounds, as well as heavy metals (mercury, lead, gold).Their unfavourable effects depend on the distance from a volcano, on magma viscosity, and on gas concentrations. The hazards closer to the volcano include pyroclastic flows, flows of mud, gases and steam, earthquakes, blasts of air, and tsunamis. Among the hazards in distant areas are the effects of toxic volcanic ashes and problems of the respiratory system, eyes and skin, as well as psychological effects, injuries, transport and communication problems, waste disposal and water supplies issues, collapse of buildings and power outage. Further effects are the deterioration of water quality, fewer periods of rain, crop damages, and the destruction of vegetation. During volcanic eruptions and their immediate aftermath, increased respiratory system morbidity has been observed as well as mortality among those affected by volcanic eruptions. Unfavourable health effects could partly be prevented by timely application of safety measures.