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Volcano. by Paul Rega, M.D., F.A.C.E.P. Introduction. Since 1700. Over 270,000 volcano-related deaths have been recorded. There have been 2-4 fatal eruptions annually. The Ring of Fire. 80% of the world’s active volcanoes are located around the Pacific Basin.

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Paul Rega, M.D., F.A.C.E.P.

since 1700
Since 1700
  • Over 270,000 volcano-related deaths have been recorded.
  • There have been 2-4 fatal eruptions annually
the ring of fire
The Ring of Fire
  • 80% of the world’s active volcanoes are located around the Pacific Basin.
where to find active volcanoes in the u s
Where to find active volcanoes in the U.S.
  • Hawaii
  • Alaska
  • Pacific Northwest
why be concerned about volcanoes
Why be concerned about volcanoes?
  • In 1990, about 10% of the world’s population lived within 100 kilometers of an active volcano.
  • Def.: A vent through which molten rock has or may escape from the earth’s surface.
volcanic eruption
Volcanic Eruption
  • Def.: The ejection of gases and solid material from a defect in the surface of the Earth.
  • Def.: Molten rock within the Earth.
    • It is under pressure within the Earth.
    • When it rises to the Earth’s surface, the pressure decreases, allowing volatiles and gases to escape.
  • Def.: The release of volatiles dissolved in magma.
  • Def.: Molten rock that erupts at the Earth’s surface.
    • When magma exits the Earth, it become lava.
  • It’s slow and easily avoidable.
  • It’s responsible for very few fatalities.
pyroclastic flows
Pyroclastic Flows
  • Def.: A mass of hot volcanic ash, lava fragments, and gases that erupts from a volcano.
  • It moves rapidly, up to a few hundred mph.
  • It’s responsible for most volcanic deaths.
    • Temperatures may reach to 900° C.
  • Rocks and other debris within the flow may be ejected from the flow causing a secondary blast injury.
  • May extend for miles.
    • The flow from the Mount St. Helens’ eruption reached 17 miles.
  • Def.: Solid fragments of magma and volcanic rock that are ejected during an eruption.
  • May cause significant blunt trauma and burns.
  • Tephra accumulations may reach several meters in depth.
  • Def.: Tephra fragments that are smaller than 2 mm.
  • Ash clouds are a potential health hazard.
  • Def.: Tephra fragments that are between 2-64 mm in size.
lava bombs or blocks
Lava Bombs or Blocks
  • Def.: Tephra fragments that are greater than 64 mm in size.
  • May land several kilometers away from a volcanic eruption.
  • Def.: Volcanic debris flows.


Medical Consequences

of Volcanic


  • Increase in bronchial reactivity
  • During the Mount St. Helens’ eruption, there was a doubling of asthma- and bronchitis-related ER visits compared to the previous year.
  • During ashfalls, total suspended particles (TSP) in the air is a useful predictor or ER visits for respiratory conditions.
    • The number of ER visits for respiratory complaints, especially asthmatics, during the Mount St. Helens’ eruption was the highest when the TSP concentration was greater than 30,000 µg/m.
volcanic gases
Volcanic Gases
  • Water vapor
  • Carbon dioxide: Threat
  • Sulfur dioxide: Threat
  • Hydrogen sulfide: Threat
  • Hydrogen
  • Carbon monoxide
  • Hydrogen fluoride: Threat
  • Helium
sulfur dioxide
Sulfur dioxide
  • Airways, eyes, and skin irritant
  • Produces acid rain
    • Reacts with zinc on sheet metal roofs.
    • Releases heavy metals into drinking water.
hydrogen fluoride
Hydrogen fluoride
  • Airways irritant
  • If ingested by animals may produce fluorosis and death
  • Drinking water should be checked for elevated fluoride levels.
  • Food should be cleaned of any ash to avoid fluorosis.
carbon dioxide
Carbon dioxide
  • Especially in low-lying areas, CO2 may accumulate.
  • If the CO2 content of the air is greater than 20-30%, asphyxiation may result.
  • Volcanoes can release gases even without an eruption.
    • 1984: In the volcanic Lake Monoun in Cameroon, 73 people died from CO2 release due to lake water turnover.
    • 1986: A similar occurrence at Lake Nyos in Cameroon. About 1700 people in a low-lying area were killed by a massive release of CO2.
hydrogen sulfide
Hydrogen sulfide
  • Because of its density, it may concentrate in low-lying areas.
  • “Rotten egg” odor
  • Airway and eye irritant
    • High concentrations may cause pulmonary edema and death through cellular asphyxiation.
accompanying catastrophes
Accompanying Catastrophes
  • Earthquakes
  • Mudflows
  • Flash floods
  • Rock falls
  • Landslides
  • Acid rain
  • Fire
  • Tsunamis
  • Lightning strikes


Near A


protective measures
Protective Measures
  • If you live near an active volcano, add to your disaster supply kit:
    • Goggles
    • Disposable breathing mask
  • Best protection:
    • Stay away from an active volcano site
if you are near a volcanic eruption
If you are near a volcanic eruption
  • Evacuate immediately
  • Avoid river valleys and low-lying areas
    • Caution with mudflows
    • Look upstream before crossing a bridge
      • Don’t cross if a mudflow is approaching
      • Mudflows are faster than you can run
protection from falling ash
Protection from falling ash
  • Wear log-sleeved shirts and long pants
  • Wear goggles and eyeglasses
    • Avoid contact lens
  • Use a dust mask or place a damp cloth over your face
  • Avoid being downwind and
  • Stay indoors unless there is concern the roof may collapse from the accumulation of ash on it
  • Close doors, windows, and all vents
  • Clear ash from roofs and rain gutters
  • Avoid running car engines to minimize clogging engines
  • Are You Ready?- Volcanoes. www.fema.gov/areyouready/volcanoes.shtm. Accessed 5/19/06.
  • Jay G. Volcanic Eruption. In Disaster Medicine, eds. Ciottone, Darling, Anderson, et al. Mosby, Philadelphia, PA. 2006.