Sulfur dioxide (SO2) pollution from the eruption in Holuhraun has been carried across South and Southeast Iceland in the past days, including popular tourist destination Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon in Suðursveit where levels reached 3,000 mµ/m3 yesterday.
Captain Páll Sigurður Vignisson, who takes travelers on a tour of the lagoon, told ruv.is that tourists have raised concern about the pollution and not known how to respond.
“There were people who came here from Skaftafell [yesterday] morning who said they had clearly felt [the pollution]. They were a little scared because they didn’t know what to do. We explained that [the gases] were coming from the eruption which they had heard about and then they realized that it might just be natural,” Páll stated.
“We encouraged them to stay inside and not be out and about if they notice any discomfort like we did here [yesterday] morning when you had to clear your throat unusually often and then your mouth was filled with a bad taste,” Páll said in description of the effects of the pollution.
Páll said he couldn’t describe the smell or the taste. “I don’t know which adjective to use to describe it. I don’t know. It’s a thick taste at least.”
The website of the Environment Agency of Iceland reads that at SO2 levels higher than 2,000 mµ/m3 everyone may experience respiratory symptoms, especially individuals with underlying diseases.
Above 9,000 mµ/m3 the symptoms grow more severe and above 14,000 mµ/m3 the situation is considered to be hazardous. In Höfn, SO2 reached the record level of 21,000 mµ/m3 at one point on Sunday.
Iceland’s Chief Epidemiologist Haraldur Briem stated on ruv.is that continued exposure to SO2 has no long-term effect on human health, referencing a study of SO2 pollution carried out among inhabitants in Japan where an eruption has lasted seven years.
However, at high SO2 levels, above 2,000 mµ/m3, everyone can feel discomfort, Haraldur said, stinging in the eyes and irritation in the throat. It’s best to stay inside and follow instructions, close the windows turn up the heat.
Letting cold water run can also help keep the gas out. In Höfn yesterday, people used homemade pollution repellents, hanging cloths and towels soaked in water mixed with baking soda (sodium bicarbonate).
Gas masks are unnecessary, Haraldur maintained, but people should breathe through the nose rather than the mouth. People with asthma and lung conditions should take special care, he added.
According to the Icelandic Met Office, SO2 pollution will be carried to the south of the eruption site today, including Kirkjubæjarklaustur and Jökulsárlón, but not Höfn where inhabitants were advised to stay inside because of the pollution yesterday and on Sunday.
Further information on the volcanic gases in English, including a link to a map showing pollution meters in different locations in Iceland, are available on the Environment Agency’s website.
Click here to order a unique limited-edition photo book about the Holuhraun eruption with a selection of Iceland Review’s photographers’ best pictures.
Iceland Review Online will publish a video of our recent trip to the eruption site by Italian photographer Elisabetta Rosso at 19:30 GMT tonight.