10. tbl. 102. árg. 2016

Effects of volcanic eruptions on human health in Iceland. Review

Áhrif eldgosa á heilsu manna á Íslandi. Yfirlitsgrein

Volcanic eruptions are common in Iceland and have caused health problems ever since the settlement of Iceland. Here we describe volcanic activity and the effects of volcanic gases and ash on human health in Iceland. Volcanic gases expelled during eruptions can be highly toxic for humans if their concentrations are high, irritating the mucus membranes of the eyes and upper respiratory tract at lower concentrations. They can also be very irritating to the skin. Volcanic ash is also irritating for the mucus membranes of the eyes and upper respiratory tract. The smalles particles of volcanic ash can reach the alveoli of the lungs. Described are four examples of volcanic eruptions that have affected the health of Icelanders. The eruption of Laki volcanic fissure in 1783-1784 is the volcanic eruption that has caused the highest mortality and had the greatest effects on the well-being of Icelanders. Despite multiple volcanic eruptions during the last decades in Iceland mortality has been low and effects on human health have been limited, although studies on longterm effects are lacking. Studies on the effects of the Eyjafjallajökul eruption in 2010 on human health showed increased physical and mental symptoms, especially in those having respiratory disorders. The Directorate of Health in Iceland and other services have responded promptly to recurrent volcanic eruptions over the last few years and given detailed instructions on how to minimize the effects on the public health.

Gunnar Guðmundsson1, Guðrún Larsen2

1Department of Respiratory Medicine and Sleep, Landspitali University Hospital, Faculty of Medicine, University of Iceland, 2Institute of Earth Sciences, University of Iceland, Askja building, 101 Reykjavík.

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