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The hidden hazards of volcanoes

Press release issued: 13 December 2002

Media release
The hidden hazards of volcanoes

A grant of £130,000 has been awarded to Earth Scientists at Bristol University to set up an international network to investigate the hidden hazards of volcanic eruptions.

Dr Claire Horwell has found that tiny particles of volcanic dust, which can reach deep into the lungs, contain significant quantities of crystalline silica, known to cause silicosis and lung cancer in miners and quarry workers. Dr Horwell has also found that some of these particles have large quantities of iron on their surfaces in a form known to participate in toxic reactions in the lung.

Millions of people world-wide are exposed to these particles as volcanic soils are made airborne during quarry or construction work, farming, domestic activities and the wind. Toxic gases can also be released into the atmosphere during, and between, volcanic eruptions. These gases may be transported in the troposphere for thousands of kilometres and can have a major impact on air quality.

So far the assessment of volcanic hazards has tended to focus on the direct impacts of eruptions, such as lava flows and explosions, with comparatively little work being done on the health hazards of other volcanic emissions - ash and gases, for example. But a grant awarded to Professor Steve Sparks and Dr Horwell in the Earth Sciences Department at Bristol University will enable an International Volcanic Health Hazard Network (IVHHN) to be established to monitor these less well-known hazards.

The IVHHN will be set up and co-ordinated by Dr Horwell who will be responsible for organising meetings and workshops, and the production and dissemination of volcanic health hazard information to volcano observatories, scientists, governments, emergency managers, health practitioners and the general public. The IVHHN will provide an organised forum for future research, which will attract major research grants in this novel and emerging field. The research may lead to important new insights into the role of natural particles in urban air pollution.

The IVHHN currently involves 13 institutions, including the universities of Bristol, Cambridge, Edinburgh and Birmingham, the University of Torino (Italy), the Institute of Occupational Medicine (Edinburgh), the British Geological Survey, the United States Geological Survey, and the Vesuvius and Montserrat volcano observatories. It will bring together researchers from such diverse scientific disciplines as volcanology, chemistry, toxicology, occupational health and epidemiology.

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Copyright: 2002 The University of Bristol, UK
Updated: Friday, 13-Dec-2002 09:49:14 GMT

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