Volcanic Ash–Important Information
Volcanic ash can travel hundreds of thousands of miles downwind of volcanoes. Ash differs from regular house dust because of its crystalline nature. It is gritty, abrasive, sometimes corrosive and always unpleasant. It is not highly toxic but it can affect infants, elderly and individuals with known respiratory issues such as asthma. It can also enter the eyes and scratch them. It is hazardous to grazing livestock, can damage or shutdown water and wastewater treatment plants and equipment with movable parts, e.g. vehicles and electronic equipment (USEPA, 2021).
According to the CDC and the International Volcanic Health Hazard Network, during an ashfall you should do the following:
Don't panic - stay calm.
Listen to your local radio for information on the eruption and clean-up plans.
Do not wear contact lenses, as these will result in corneal abrasion.
Close all windows and doors, make your home or building airtight. Cover everything with a protective covering if possible.
Turn off all fans and heating and air conditioning systems.
Bring pets and livestock into closed shelters.
If there is ash in your water, let it settle and then use the clear water. If there is a lot of ash in the water supply, do not use your dishwasher or washing machine. Water contaminated by ash will usually make drinking water unpalatable before it presents a health risk.
Seek shelter indoors.
Use a mask, handkerchief, or cloth over your nose and mouth.
Keep your car or truck engine switched off. Avoid driving in heavy ashfall. Driving will stir up ash that can clog engines and stall vehicles. If you do have to drive, keep the car windows up and do not operate the air conditioning system. Operating the air conditioning system will bring in outside air and ash.
If your eyes, nose, and throat become irritated from volcanic gases and fumes, move away from the area immediately. Your symptoms should go away when you are no longer in contact with the gases or fumes. If the symptoms continue, consult your doctor.
References for more information:
1) USEPA, Volcanoes: https://www.epa.gov/natural-disasters/volcanoes
2) CDC, Key Facts About Protecting Yourself During a Volcanic Eruption: https://www.cdc.gov/disasters/volcanoes/during.html
3) International Volcanic Health Hazard Network, Guidelines on Preparedness: Before, During and After an Ashfall: https://www.ivhhn.org/images/pamphlets/Preparedness_Guidelines_English_WEB.pdf