Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Assessing the biological reactivity of organic compounds on volcanic ash: Implications for human health hazard

April 8, 2021

Exposure to volcanic ash is a long-standing health concern for people living near active volcanoes and in distal urban areas. During transport and deposition, ash is subjected to various physicochemical processes that may change its surface composition and, consequently, bioreactivity. One such process is the interaction with anthropogenic pollutants; however, the potential for adsorbed, deleterious organic compounds to directly impact human health is unknown. We use an in vitro bioanalytical approach to screen for the presence of organic compounds of toxicological concern on ash surfaces and assess their biological potency. These compounds include polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), polychlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxins and dibenzofurans (PCDD/Fs) and dioxin-like polychlorinated biphenyls (dlPCBs). Analysis of ash collected in or near urbanised areas at five active volcanoes across the world (Etna, Italy; Fuego, Guatemala; Kelud, Indonesia; Sakurajima, Japan; Tungurahua, Ecuador) using the bioassay inferred the presence of such compounds on all samples. A relatively low response to PCDD/Fs and the absence of a dlPCBs response in the bioassay suggest that the measured activity is dominated by PAHs and PAH-like compounds. This study is the first to demonstrate a biological potency of organic pollutants associated with volcanic ash particles. According to our estimations, they are present in quantities below recommended exposure limits and likely pose a low direct concern for human health.

Publication Year 2021
Title Assessing the biological reactivity of organic compounds on volcanic ash: Implications for human health hazard
DOI 10.1007/s00445-021-01453-4
Authors Ines Tomasek, David Damby, Daniele Andronico, Peter J. Baxter, Imke Boonen, Philippe Claeys, Michael S. Denison, Claire J. Horwell, Matthieu Kervyn, Ulrich Kueppers, Manolis N Romanias, Marc Elskens
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Bulletin of Volcanology
Index ID 70223223
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Volcano Science Center