The threat of an imminent eruption from Taal Volcano has prompted the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (PHIVOLCS) to raise the danger level to Alert Level 4. This means that a hazardous eruptive explosion is possible within hours to days. Those living within the 14-kilometer (8.7 miles) danger zone has been ordered to immediately evacuate their homes and advisory warnings were raised to residents living within the 17-kilometer radius of the volcano. It is of utmost importance that everyone remains alert and updated on the ongoing eruption of one of the most active volcanoes in the world.
What are the dangers associated with a volcanic eruption?
Volcanoes spew ash, steam composed of hazardous gases, lava, and rock that are powerfully destructive. The most common cause of death from a volcanic eruption is suffocation. Eruptions of ash and discharges of aerosols and acid gases may be transported long distances (hundreds of kilometers) and cause health effects remote from the site of the eruption. Health concerns include spread of infectious diseases, respiratory illnesses, burns and skin irritation, ocular problems, and injuries associated with falls and vehicular accidents. In addition to health hazards, a volcanic eruption can produce additional threats, such as floods, mudslides, power outages, drinking water contamination, and even wildfires.
What are the health risks to watch out for?
Factors of ash particles that affect scale and nature of respiratory effects include the concentration and size, free silica content, and surface properties. Inhalation of coarser particles can cause irritation of the upper airways and cough, while finer particles can cause exacerbation of pre-existing lung conditions such as asthma and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). Prolonged exposure to respirable or very fine particles of crystalline silica may cause silicosis (lung damage). Aside from ash fall, volcanic gases such as carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide can cause breathing problems in both healthy and in patients with chronic respiratory diseases. Patients most vulnerable to the effect of ash fall and volcanic gases are those with pre-existing respiratory disease such as asthma, COPD, and other chronic respiratory conditions.
Ocular (Eye) Problems.
Ash is abrasive and sometimes corrosive. Ash particles deposited in the eye can cause corneal abrasion and conjunctivitis. Symptoms include foreign body sensation in the eye, eye redness, burning sensation, dry eyes, itchiness, and excessive tearing.
Effects of volcanic eruption may range from burns (exposure to hot lava and other volcanic matter) to mild skin irritation due to exposure to ash fall.
Fall and other accidents.
Volcanic ash accumulation can cause roof collapse and accidents. Limited visibility and slippery roads due to ashfall conditions may cause vehicular accidents.
What can we do to prepare against these risks?
Here are a few useful and practical tips that can protect your health and help you stay prepared:
- Follow updates on emergency information and alerts.
- Follow evacuation and shelter orders from local government.
- Minimize exposure to ash by staying indoors during an ash fall.
- Close all windows and doors.
- Consult your doctor if you have any pre-existing respiratory illness or you experience any respiratory symptoms.
- The recommendation to use of Respiratory Protection (RP) is dependent on: 1) the design of the device; 2) the reduction of exposure required for the wearer’s health; and 3) the appropriateness for the individual wearer, task and environment.An N-95 mask has 99%++ filtration efficiency (FE) while an ordinary surgical mask has 87.3% efficiency.
- During heavy ash fall or while cleaning ash that may have gotten indoors, the use of an N-95 disposable respirator is recommended.
- Among healthy patients exposed to areas with minimal ash fall, the use of an ordinary surgical mask will provide sufficient protection.
- In patients with chronic lung disease such as asthma and COPD, the use of an N-95 disposable respirator is recommended whenever poor quality of air is suspected.
- The use of goggles or eyeglasses is recommended in areas with heavy ash fall to prevent eye problems. Do not use contact lenses.
- Keep skin covered to avoid irritation from contact with ash.
- Do not drink water contaminated with ash.
- Avoid driving during a heavy ash fall.
- Clear roofs of ash in excess of four inches.
It is important to stay united during these trying times. Get involved in relief operations and donation drives. Participate in volunteer work and donate what you can to the Philippine Red Cross. In case of emergency call the National Emergency Hotline at 911.