Carcinogenic volcanoes

Volcanoes can be bad for your health months and even years they have finished erupting, new research shows.

A study of the Soufriere Hills Volcano in Montserrat found that the aftermath of that volcano includes lots of ash particles that are just the right size to cause silicosis (a scarring disease of the lungs) and which may also be carcinogenic.

The Montserrat volcano was characterised by pyroclastic flows (a cloud of super heated matter) formed by a lava dome collapse within the volcano. This generates between three and fours times as much finer ash than volcanoes that have more rapid and explosive eruptions, researchers say. The problem is made worse because pyroclastic flows can send giant plumes of fine ash several miles into the atmosphere.

Ash falls from such a volcano can persist for months or even years, according to Professor Ray Dupree from the University of Warwick’s Department of Physics, who led the study.

The Soufriere Hills volcano began erupting on 18th July 1995 but airborne ash concentrations in the area have been continually monitored since 1997, and have often detected concentrations of ash that have exceeded the UK’s air quality standard.

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