Page last updated at 10:08 GMT, Friday, 16 April 2010 11:08 UK

Experts update ash health advice

Icelandic Met Office's Matthew Roberts: 'The ash cloud reached 8km high'

UK health experts have advised people to return indoors if they start to get respiratory symptoms due to volcanic ash falling to ground level.

The Health Protection Agency in conjunction with Scottish advisors stress the small amounts of ash are unlikely to cause any serious harm.

But if people notice symptoms such as a runny nose, itchy eyes or cough they may want to go inside, they advised.

Those with conditions such as asthma may notice the effects more, they said.

The World Health Organization said it was unclear what exact health risks there would be from the ash cloud but Europeans should try to stay indoors if ash from Iceland's volcano starts raining down from the sky.

WHO spokesman David Epstein said the cloud mostly remained high in the atmosphere on Friday but they were monitoring the situation closely.

The updated UK recommendations come after reports of a small concentration of particles reaching the ground in Scotland.

People may notice notice a dusty haze in the air, the HPA said, but any health effects are likely to be short-term.

We would advise people living with a lung condition in affected areas to carry their medication as a precaution as they may experience a short-term worsening of symptoms
Professor Malcolm Green, British Lung Foundation

They also said that low levels of sulphur dioxide are likely to be found in the plume but this is also not expected to be a threat to human health.

If people smell sulphur, rotten eggs, or a strong acidic smell, when outside they may wish to limit their activities outdoors or return indoors.

Anyone with respiratory conditions such as chronic bronchitis, emphysema and asthma should ensure they have any inhalers or other medications with them, the recommendations said.

The British Lung Foundation backed the updated advice.

Spokesman Professor Malcolm Green said: "We would advise people living with a lung condition in affected areas to carry their medication as a precaution as they may experience a short-term worsening of symptoms."


Wednesday's eruption occurred near the Eyjafjallajoekull glacier. The glacier water melted by the ongoing volcanic activity in the region generated large volumes of steam, which made this latest eruption explosive.

The Met Office is monitoring the plume of volcanic ash which has grounded flights across the UK.

Dust and odours were detected in the Northern Isles and the dust is being analysed by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency.

Scientists have pointed out that, at ground level, volcanic ash can cause serious health problems.

Dr Dougal Jerram, a volcanologist from the Department of Earth Sciences at Durham University explained: "One of the most influential ever eruptions was the 1783-1784 event at Laki in Iceland when an estimated 120 million tonnes of sulphur dioxide were emitted, approximately equivalent to three times the total annual European industrial output in 2006.

"This outpouring of sulphur dioxide during unusual weather conditions caused a thick haze to spread across Western Europe, resulting in many thousands of deaths throughout 1783 and the winter of 1784."

Following that event, many people reported seeing a "volcanic haze" near the ground. The current ash plume is not visible from ground level.

This was also a much smaller eruption and scientists have said that this is a relatively diffuse ash cloud that will blow away within one or two days.

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