The main aims of IVHHN are:
Nine percent of the world's population (500 million people) lives within 100 km of an historically active volcano. Assessment of volcanic hazards has tended to focus on the direct impacts of eruptions. Comparatively little research has been carried out on the health hazards of volcanic emissions (ash, gases, and other aerosols).
The hazards of volcanic ash were first recognised at Mount St Helens in 1980. The eruption of the Soufrière Hills volcano, Montserrat (1995 - present), has further stimulated research on the health hazards of ash. Researchers, who form the nucleus of IVHHN, have found that respirable particles of ash (< 4 microns) contain significant quantities of the crystalline silica polymorph cristobalite, capable of causing silicosis and lung cancer. As Montserrat is a British Overseas Territory, the UK government commissioned research to assess the health hazard of the ash. The findings have initiated further investigations involving researchers spanning several scientific disciplines both in the UK and abroad.
Millions of people are frequently exposed to volcanic dusts because of the re-suspension of particles from volcanic soils by quarry or construction work, farming, domestic activities and wind. Volcanic particles constitute an important component of the aerosol in these regions, and are capable of causing asthma, silicosis, tuberculosis reactivation and lung cancer.
Toxic gases (SO2, H2S, CO2, HF, etc) and highly-acidic sulphate particles can be released into the atmosphere during, and between, volcanic eruptions. High concentrations of these gases and aerosols can cause lung problems, poisoning of livestock and even death. These gases can be transported in the troposphere for 1000s of km, with major impacts on air quality, as has been seen at Masaya volcano, Nicaragua. Future acute volcanic air pollution episodes will require rapid health assessments to allay anxiety and define health risks (asthma, cardiorespiratory morbidity and mortality) in settlements near erupting volcanoes.
IVHHN will help to develop an adequate understanding of the health effects of volcanic emissions by providing an organized forum to focus future research and to encourage multidisciplinary and international collaboration, which will attract major research grants. Our studies may also lead to important new insights into the role of natural particles in urban air pollution.
Download our pamphlets on preparing for ashfall and on the health hazards of ash. They are designed for mass distribution at the onset of new eruptions. They are now avaiable in English, Japanese, French Spanish, Portuguese, Swahili, Indonesian and Icelandic with Italian versions being available shortly. Please see our Pamphlets page for further infomation.