Experts warned that the volcanic plume from one of Iceland’s largest eruptions in the last 200 years caused a 23 percent increase in respiratory disease diagnoses.
The impact of the Holuhraun Lava eruption, which ejected 11 million tonnes of sulphur dioxide over six months in 2014–15, was investigated by experts from the United Kingdom and Iceland.
Air currents caused the plume to circle back to Iceland after spreading across Iceland and the Atlantic Ocean towards the UK and Europe.
As a result, despite being 155 miles (250 kilometers) from the eruption site, residents of Reykjavik were repeatedly exposed to the pollution, according to the team.
Furthermore, the plume’s composition evolved from gas to particles that penetrate deep into the lungs and cause health issues as it lingered in the atmosphere.
According to the researchers, the findings highlight the importance of authorities preparing for health issues resulting from such returning emissions in the days following eruptions.
‘Volcanoes are a major contributor to air pollution, but it’s a source that can’t be controlled,’ said Evgenia Ilyinskaya of the University of Leeds, the paper’s lead author and a volcanologist.
‘Hazardous air pollution can result from large volcanic eruptions both immediately and when the plume returns to the same area.’
‘This could happen without causing air pollution warning,’ she explained.
‘Our data indicate that during long-duration eruptions like Holuhraun, both young and mature plumes can circulate at the same moment, increasing the harmful health effects on those who live in volcanic areas.’
‘At the moment, this pollution return is not factored into responses to the threat of volcanoes to public health.’