From Iceland — Experts Caution Eruption Visitors To Avoid Toxic Gases

Experts Caution Eruption Visitors To Avoid Toxic Gases

Published August 5, 2022

Photo by
Valur Grettisson

The new eruption site at Meradalir is releasing gases that can irritate skin, lungs, and eyes if people are exposed, experts warn.

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As the lava comes out of the roughly 300-metre long fissure, gases emerge with it. Right now, the gas plume reaches between 500 metres and 1 km in height, according to the Directorate of Health.

While there is no ash cloud—and, thus, an insignificant impact on air traffic—the gases can be harmful to humans and animals near the eruption site. Anyone visiting the area should be aware of possible gas contamination.

Blue smoke around the eruption is an indication that there is sulfur dioxide in the gas, Ágúst Kvaran, a professor of chemistry at the University of Iceland, told Morgunblaðið. If it comes into contact with the skin, eyes, or mouth, or anywhere there is moisture, it will have a corrosive effect.

Children and dogs are particularly vulnerable to the gas because it stays low to the ground, so they may be breathing it in greater doses than taller adults. Officials warn against taking children and dogs to the eruption site.

Carbon dioxide, hydrogen sulfide, and hydrogen halides are also released during volcanic eruptions and can have harmful side effects, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

Symptoms of gas inhalation include coughing, shortness of breath, sore throat, headaches, and irritated eyes. People visiting the eruption site should monitor for symptoms and seek higher ground if they experience any. Drinking plenty of water and wearing a gas mask are also helpful to reduce symptoms.

The Directorate of Health published a brochure in Icelandic about health risks from air pollution. More information about eruption-related health risks can be found on the Directorate of Health website and the International Volcanic Health Hazard Network website.

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