Thursday, April 22, 2010

Warnings About Volcano-Related Respiratory Problems May Have Been Premature

Eyjafjallajokull (ay-yah-FYAH-lah-yer-kuhl). Say that five times fast!

No matter how you pronounce it, this volcano has been in the news and in water-cooler conversations around the world. It has affected travelers, governments, and reportedly, even a rhinoceros who got stuck en route!

On Friday, the World Health Organization issued a warning for patients in Europe with asthma and other respiratory problems, claiming that the ash cloud released by the volcano could be "very dangerous" for them due to the abrasive and corrosive nature of volcanic dust particles.

However, they have since toned down this warning. The tiny particles of volcanic ash which are most likely to cause these issues are still very high up in the atmosphere- too high to cause significant problems for individuals on the ground (except in the immediate vicinity of the volcano). A low-pressure weather system expected over Iceland later this week may push the ash cloud towards the Arctic and prompt rain which may further "wash out" the ash. With any luck, the fine particles of volcanic ash capable of causing severe respiratory issues will never make it to the ground in highly populated areas.

In the meantime, it is important to keep in mind that volcanic ash particles are probably less toxic to our lungs than the small particles from traffic pollution and HVAC systems. So, in honor of Earth day... less fretting about what Mother Nature has done to us, and more fretting about what we have done to Mother Earth!

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