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Durham University

Department of Earth Sciences


Publication details for Dr Chris Ottley

Allen, A.G., Baxter, P.J. & Ottley, C.J. (2000). Gas and particle emissions from Soufriere Hills Volcano, Montserrat, West Indies: characterization and health hazard assessment. Bulletin of Volcanology 62(1): 8-19.

Author(s) from Durham


 The Soufrière Hills Volcano, Montserrat, erupting since 18 July 1995, intensified its degassing in early 1996 with the continuing growth of the lava dome inside the summit crater. During this period of increased activity, between 11 and 18 March 1996, we measured gases and particles within the visible plume to determine whether at that time it posed a health risk to the population of Plymouth, the capital town, which is 5 km southwest (downwind) and was then still occupied. Gravimetric measurements were made of total suspended particles (TSP) and particles having an aerodynamic diameter of less than 10 μm (PM10). Measurements were made of sulphur dioxide (SO2), hydrochloric acid (HCl), hydrofluoric acid (HF), nitric acid (HNO3), acetic acid (CH3COOH), formic acid (HCOOH), and particulate sulphate (SO42–), chloride (Cl–), nitrate (NO3–), fluoride (F–), methanesulphonate (CH3SO3–), acetate (CH3COO–), formate (HCOO–), ammonium (NH4+), sodium (Na+) and acidity (H+). Trace metals having human health implications [chromium (Cr), nickel (Ni), cobalt (Co), copper (Cu), zinc (Zn), arsenic (As), selenium (Se), cadmium (Cd), tin (Sn), mercury (Hg) and lead (Pb)] were also determined. Mean concentrations of HCl, SO2 and HF obtained in the town of Plymouth were 14.0, 5.9 and 0.8 ppbv, respectively. Corresponding concentrations in the mixed plume on the crater edge were 533, 168 and 22 ppbv. There were no direct emissions of HNO3, although nitrate was detected in coarse particles at the source. Higher concentrations of CH3COOH and HCOOH were measured close to the crater. Mean TSP and PM10 were 64 and 15 μg m–3 in Plymouth, and 455 and 47 μg m–3 on the upper volcano slope. Aerosols were highly acidic at the source but rapidly neutralised during transport. Trace metals were enriched in the aerosol relative to crater surface material. The concentrations of the acid gases, sulphur dioxide in particular, and particles were found to be too small to pose a health hazard at the time of these measurements, when relatively modest volcanic activity was occurring.