That Volcanic Ash Can Knock Down Planes, But What About Humans?

Now that the dust is settling, and airports and planes are “back as usual”, experts are divided as to whether the same stuff that can damage jet engines can be harmful or not for people to breathe in.

Experts are divided on this. Depending who you ask, the answer can vary just like the shifting winds which threatened to extend further the “sit-in” for planes at European airports.

The unpronounceable Eyjafjallajokull erupted on 14 April 2010, spewing volcanic ash all over Europe

The World Health Organisation set the ball rolling by announcing initially that it was “very concerned” about the potential health effects of inhaled ash from the Iceland volcano. Other experts poo-poohed this conclusion, claiming that by the time the ash settled to ground level, it would be no different from cigarette smoke or plain old air pollution. “Not all particles are created equal” said a professor or respiratory medicine from the University of Edinburgh.

The British Health Protection Agency concurs, saying that whatever remaining ash that reaches the ground, at the most, would cause those susceptible (such as asthmatics) to have an exacerbation and advised them to have their inhalers ready.

5 days after the Iceland volcanic eruption (note how the media carefully refrains from mentioning the unpronounceable Eyjafjallajokull !), WHO clarified its stand by saying air quality on the ground has not deteriorated, and the observed variation remains in the range of normal fluctuations. There is no change in the current WHO advice about potential health risks: if the volcanic ash reaches ground level in higher concentrations the ash may cause health effects, but these are likely to be minimal.

There is an excellent FAQ  on the health effects of the Icelandic volcano here.

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