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Durham University

Department of Earth Sciences


Publication details for Prof. Claire Horwell

Mueller, William, Cowie, Hilary, Horwell, Claire J., Hurley, Fintan & Baxter, Peter J. (2020). Health Impact Assessment of volcanic ash inhalation: A comparison with outdoor air pollution methods. GeoHealth 4(7): e2020GH000256.

Author(s) from Durham


This paper critically appraises the extrapolation of concentration‐response functions (CRFs) for fine and coarse particulate matter, PM2.5 and PM10 respectively, used in outdoor air pollution Health Impact Assessment (HIA) studies to assess the extent of health impacts in communities exposed to volcanic emissions. Treating volcanic ash as PM, we: 1) consider existing models for HIA for general outdoor PM; 2) identify documented health effects from exposure to ash in volcanic eruptions; 3) discuss potential issues of applying CRFs based on the composition and concentration of ash‐related PM; and 4) critically review available case studies of volcanic exposure scenarios utilising HIA for outdoor air pollution. We identify a number of small‐scale studies focusing on populations exposed to volcanic ash; exposure is rarely quantified and there is limited evidence concerning the health effects of PM from volcanic eruptions. That limited evidence is, however, consistent with the CRFs typically used for outdoor air pollution HIA. Two health assessments of exposure to volcanic emissions have been published using population‐ and occupational‐based CRFs, though each application entails distinct assumptions and limitations. We conclude that the best available strategy at present is to apply outdoor air pollution risk estimates to scenarios involving volcanic ash emissions for the purposes of HIA. However, due to the knowledge gaps on, for example, the health effects from exposure to volcanic ash and differences in ash composition, there is inherent uncertainty in this application. To conclude, we suggest actions to enable better prediction and assessment of health impacts of volcanic emissions.