How to stay safe during volcanic ashfall

Janella Paris

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How to stay safe during volcanic ashfall


(UPDATED) The Department of Health warns of potential health effects as ashfall from Taal Volcano reaches Calabarzon and Metro Manila

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – The Department of Health (DOH) warned of potential health effects as ashfall from the Taal Volcano reached Calabarzon and Metro Manila on Sunday, January 12. 

The Taal Volcano in Batangas spewed an ash column one kilometer high on Sunday afternoon, triggering the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) to raise its status to Alert Level 4. It also warned that a “hazardous” eruption may occur “within hours to days.” 

DOH, in a statement Sunday night, told the public to be vigilant about conditions that may arise after exposure to volcanic ash:

  • throat irritation
  • coughing
  • bronchitis-like illness
  • discomfort while breathing
  • eye irritation
  • minor skin problems

It also reminded people to seek immediate medical help should such conditions arise.

The World Health Organization (WHO) in the Philippines, on Twitter and Facebook, similarly said volcanic eruptions could result in the following:

  • trauma and injuries (troma at mga pisikal na pinsala)
  • skin burns and irritation (sunog sa balat at pangangati)
  • gastrointestinal problems (mga problema sa sikmura) 
  • lung problems (mga problema sa baga)
  • eye irritation (pangangati ng mata)

WHO Philippines said people should observe the following measures after an eruption:

  • Follow evacuation procedures.
  • Stay indoors unless absolutely necessary.
  • Avoid low-lying areas and areas downwind from the volcano.
  • For children, the elderly, and people with respiratory problems: Wear masks that block small particles of ash.
  • For the general population: Wear a simple mask.
  • Wear protective eye gear.
  • Make sure food and water you consume are safe.

The DOH issued similar guidelines in January 2018, after the Mayon Volcano exhibited increased seismic unrest, lava fountaining, and summit explosions. Aside from guidelines the WHO Philippines already outlined, the DOH said people should:

  • Keep doors and windows closed.
  • Keep home from infiltration by using damp curtains, blankets, or clothing.
  • Keep pets in closed shelter.
  • Clear the roof of ash
  • Observe traffic notifications and road safety measures.

According to the International Volcanic Health Hazard Network (IVHHN), a global network of scientists: “Freshly fallen ash particles can have acid coatings which may cause irritation to the lungs and eyes. This acid coating is rapidly removed by rain, which may then pollute local water supplies. Acidic ash can also damage vegetation, leading to crop failure.”

Though volcanic ash causes relatively few health problems, the IVHHN said respiratory and eye symptoms may increase after an ashfall event.

Phivolcs said in its 4 pm bulletin Sunday that the Taal Volcano’s main crater “has escalated its eruptive activity, generating an eruption plume one kilometer high, accompanied by volcanic tremor and felt earthquakes.”

Phivolcs strongly recommended that Taal Volcano Island and high-risk barangays in the towns of Agoncillo and Laurel in Batangas be evacuated, citing “possible hazards of pyroclastic density currents and volcanic tsunami.” 

Evacuations are also underway in the towns of Talisay, Balete, and San Nicolas, all in Batangas province, according to the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, based on reports from its regional office. 

As of this posting, there were reports of ashfall in the provinces of Laguna, Batangas, Cavite, and even Metro Manila. 

Several local executives have suspended classes due to Taal’s volcanic activity. –

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