Stewart, C., Damby, D.E., Horwell, C.J., Elias, T., Elyinska, E., Tomašek, I., Longo, B.M., Schmidt, A., Carlsen, H.K., Mason, E., Bazter, P.J., Cronin, S. & Witham, C. (2021) Volcanic air pollution and human health: recent advances and future directions. Bulletin of Volcanology 84(1): 11. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00445-021-01513-9
Volcanic air pollution from both explosive and effusive activity can affect large populations as far as thousands of kilometers away from the source, for days to decades or even centuries. Here, we summarize key advances and prospects in the assessment of health hazards, effects, risk, and management. Recent advances include standardized ash assessment methods to characterize the multiple physicochemical characteristics that might influence toxicity; the rise of community-based air quality monitoring networks using low-cost gas and particulate sensors; the development of forecasting methods for ground-level concentrations and associated public advisories; the development of risk and impact assessment methods to explore health consequences of future eruptions; and the development of evidence-based, locally specific measures for health protection. However, it remains problematic that the health effects of many major and sometimes long-duration eruptions near large populations have gone completely unmonitored. Similarly, effects of prolonged degassing on exposed populations have received very little attention relative to explosive eruptions. Furthermore, very few studies have longitudinally followed populations chronically exposed to volcanic emissions; thus, knowledge gaps remain about whether chronic exposures can trigger development of potentially fatal diseases. Instigating such studies will be facilitated by continued co-development of standardized protocols, supporting local study teams and procuring equipment, funding, and ethical permissions. Relationship building between visiting researchers and host country academic, observatory, and agency partners is vital and can, in turn, support the effective communication of health impacts of volcanic air pollution to populations, health practitioners, and emergency managers.