Symposium on Respiratory Toxicology
Dr. Florabel G. Mullick and Dr. Eduardo Santini-Araujo
Section 1 -
Volcanic Emissions and Health
Angus Cook and Phil Weinstein
Ecology & Health, School of Population Health
University of Western Australia
Crawley, Western Australia 6009, AUSTRALIA
Volcanic vents and fissures provide a conduit by which magma – the molten rock, gases and water within
the earth – may interact with human biological systems. The vast majority of volcanogenic fatalities in
the past few centuries have resulted from as pyroclastic flows, lahars, and suffocation or building
collapse from ash or debris; from tsunamis, which may spread for hundreds of miles from the active site;
and from indirect consequences of eruptions, such as famine or infectious disease outbreaks.
Apart from the obvious thermal and physical injuries resulting from an eruption, ejecta may also
contain toxic elements and compounds which disrupt biological systems. These compounds may be released
in the form of volcanic gases, or carried with volcanic matter falling from eruptive columns or plumes.
Some of the material ejected may induce disease by undergoing radioactive decay. Although these toxins
are often not the major causes of mortality in volcanic eruptions, they may persist and have the
potential to cause long-term morbidity.
From a medical perspective, geologic monitoring has a pivotal - but often under-utilised – role in
helping those living in the shadows of volcanoes. Geological data generated before, during, and
subsequent to eruptions is an important first step in the process of minimising illness. The ideal
end-result would involve such information being passed to all relevant regional organisations and health
providers, and from there to vulnerable communities.
This session will explore the following themes:
- An introduction to volcanic toxicology
- The health effects of tephra dispersal and volcanic gas emissions
- Volcanic dispersal of metals and trace elements
- Monitoring and protection