Studies of the respiratory health effects of different types of volcanic ash have been undertaken only in the last 40 years, and mostly since the eruption of Mt. St. Helens in 1980. This review of all published clinical, epidemiological and toxicological studies, and other work known to the authors up to and including 2005, highlights the sparseness of studies on acute health effects after eruptions and the complexity of evaluating the long-term health risk (silicosis, non-specific pneumoconiosis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) in populations from prolonged exposure to ash due to persistent eruptive activity. The acute and chronic health effects of volcanic ash depend upon particle size (particularly the proportion of respirable-sized material), mineralogical composition (including the crystalline silica content) and the physicochemical properties of the surfaces of the ash particles, all of which vary between volcanoes and even eruptions of the same volcano, but adequate information on these key characteristics is not reported for most eruptions.
Claire J. Horwell . Peter J. Baxter