Although the long-term effects related to health risks posed by Iceland's Volcano, Eyjafjallajokull may not be immediately known, this same volcano has posed health risks in the past. During previous eruptions, which occurred in 550 A.D., 920, 1612 and 1821, there was damage and both short and long-term health problems as a direct result of the volcanic eruption.
History of Health Risks Caused by Iceland’s Volcanoes
Eyjafjallajokull is not the only volcano that has caused health problems. Some of Iceland's other volcanoes have been even more devastating to humans, animals and the eco-system.
In 1755, when Eyjafjallajökull’s evil sister, Katla erupted, the flood waters were estimated to be greater than the Nile, Mississippi and Amazon Rivers combined. In 1783, one fourth of Iceland's entire population was killed when the Laki Volcano erupted. That eruption was so explosive and massive that it changed global weather patterns, even in North America. The eruption released powerful gasses that turned into thick smog, floated across the jet stream, even killing many in the British Isles from the gas poisoning. Crops died and famine was widespread.
When Eyjafjallajokull erupted in 1821, the eruption lasted well over a year. The ash spread fluoride, which killed many of the livestock of Iceland's farmers. Many people were also affected by the volcanic ash and after-effects of the eruption once it stopped in January of 1823. The ash settled as far away as Scotland.
Health Risks Posed by 2010 Eyjafjallajokull Eruption
The length of time this eruption will last is not yet known. On May 7, 2010, the ash started spreading again. This does not mean it will last as long as the 1821 eruption, but the end of the eruption may not yet be here. Therefore, there are short-term, immediate and long-term health risks to consider.
Once again, the ash contains high levels of fluoride. This is causing major concerns for the health of Iceland's livestock. An employee of the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority has advised that farmers keep their livestock indoors, citing the potential damage from the fluoride as well as digestive and respiratory problems that livestock could suffer as a direct result of the volcanic ash.
In people, the greatest immediate risk is to those with already compromised respiratory issues such as those with asthma, allergies, emphysema, and other such diseases, as well as children and the elderly.
Health authorities in Iceland have also expressed concern that drinking water may be affected from the fallout of this eruption. The quality of drinking water is being evaluated.
Long-term effects of health risks posed from the most recent eruption of Eyjafjallajokull may not be known for some time.
Several World Trade Center rescuers and ordinary citizens have since died or become ill from mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases from the tons of asbestos released into the air in the thick clouds of dust on 9/11. Just as breathing asbestos particles in the air can cause mesothelioma, breathing volcanic ash can cause the particles to settle in the lungs and cause life-long health problems. The full extent of the fallout from this eruption may not be known for years. But as has been proved in previous volcano eruptions in Iceland, including eruptions of Eyjafjallajokull, humans are killed and sickened by the ash and poisonous gasses.
Some officials have claimed there is minimal health risk and touted the concerns as “hysteria.” It will take much investigation and evaluation by scientists, health officials and other experts to determine the full health risks posed by the latest Eyjafjallajokull eruption, to act quickly to minimize those risks and to treat those suffering from illnesses caused by this eruption.