Thirty years ago when Mount St. Helens exploded in Washington state, it gave a whole new meaning to the concept of washing your fruits and vegetables. It was like being dumped on dry cement mix.
While a major inconvenience, food and water safety were not put at risk by the 1980 eruption and health experts do not expect Iceland’s exploding volcano will put anyone at risk from eating and drinking.
The Eyjafjallajokull volcano is causing major disruptions from its eruptions. An ash plume rising to 55,000 feet into the air has closed northern European airports and kept passenger jets from the United States that should be bound for Europe parked at their gates.
Nevertheless, the United Kingdom’s Health Protection Agency (HPA) says the plume of ash “currently trapped in the atmosphere” is not a significant risk to public health because it’s so high in altitude.
HPA says it will monitor the plume’s movement even through it is not expected to touch ground in the UK “in the near future.”
A few hours after that statement was issued, however, ash did start to touch ground in Scotland’s Northern Isles, including the area around Shetland, and was expected to move southward over night.
“Even if the plume does drop towards the ground the concentrations of particles at ground level are not likely to cause significant effects on health,” HPA said. “Rainfall over the UK could cause a small amount of the ash to be deposited over the country but quantities are expected to be too small to cause health effects.”
UK’s National Health Service did advise people with respiratory conditions to take precautions, including staying indoors and keeping medications with them.
The Scottish Parliament, according to the BBC, got an update from Finance Secretary John Swinney, who shared results on tests of the ash.
“The analysis that we have of emissions from volcanic eruptions is that the ash is not poisonous and has the potential only to irritate those who may suffer from skin conditions or asthmatic conditions,” he said.
The minister also said there was no indication that the ash should “cause alarm” to farmers.
Closer to the eruption in Iceland, the ash was being described as a black, fine substance with the consistency of flour or sugar. Iceland is monitoring drinking water that could be impacted by the glacier melt that is occurring because of the eruption.
Eyjafjallajokull has erupted four times in the last 1,100 years. The last was in 1823, and fluorine in that ash was blamed for deaths and injuries in livestock.