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Volcanic Gases Cause Health Problems

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Volcanic Gases Cause Health Problems

SO2 pollution haze in Reykjavík on November 4, 2011.

Eruption pollution near Reykjavík. Photo: Dagbjört Oddný Matthíasdóttir.

Both scientists working at the Holuhraun eruption site and those guarding the closed-off area have suffered serious health problems because of toxic gases emitted by the eruption. Since the eruption started in late August, doctors have noticed increased health problems around the country, primarily in East Iceland.

“There were two incidents where police officers nearly lost consciousness after breathing in the gas. And my people have been under a lot of strain up there, that’s correct,” volcanologist Ármann Höskuldsson told Fréttablaðið.

A short while after being exposed to high levels of volcanic gases people experience intense fits of coughing and may not recover until several days afterwards, Ármann described. He added that the eruption is still emitting extensive amounts of sulfur dioxide (SO2).

Þórólfur Guðnason, senior epidemiologist at the Directorate of Health, confirms that cases of people being exposed to volcanic gases at the eruption site have been referred to them.

“However, the consequences have not been serious and the health effects have not been permanent,” he added. “This is what we know can happen at such high concentration as at the eruption site. That’s why people are afraid to authorize tours to the site.”

Þórólfur stated that judging by the sale of asthma medicine and diagnosis at healthcare centers around the country, people have suffered increased symptoms from the respiratory organs since the eruption started, although he wouldn’t confirm that gas pollution is the reason.

A detailed health study is planned.

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