No threat to health or environment from airborne particles, say agencies

The small amounts of volcanic ash from the Icelandic plume falling to the ground in Shetland and elsewhere around Scotland will not cause any long-term effect on people’s health or damage the environment, according to government agencies. Those with respiratory conditions such as asthma should take their inhalers or medication with them when they go out, however.

Health Protection Scotland said it was important to recognise that the particles pose no health threat in wet conditions such as those in the isles this morning because they cannot be inhaled.

In a statement, the organisation said: “In the event of rain it is anticipated that only very low concentrations of volcanic ash would be deposited in fields and towns and there are unlikely to be significant health effects among the general public when the rain dries.

“However, because small quantities of volcanic ash could float back up into the air in windy conditions it would be sensible for people with existing respiratory conditions such as chronic bronchitis, emphysema and asthma to ensure they keep their inhalers or other medications with them.

“If people are outside and notice symptoms such as itchy or irritated eyes, runny nose, sore throat or dry cough, or if they notice a dusty haze in the air or can smell sulphur, rotten eggs, or a strong acidic smell, they may wish to limit their activities outdoors or return indoors. Any such health effects are likely to be short term.”

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa), which is monitoring the ash and has taken samples in Lerwick, Aberdeen and East Kilbride, declared that there was a “minimal risk to the environment”.

Sepa’s director of science and strategy, Professor James Curran, said: “The greatest environmental concern from volcanic ash, and the most significant risk to grazing livestock, would be fluoride content in ash deposits. Information from Sepa’s analysis of Scottish dust samples, and from similar analysis in Norway, indicates low levels of fluoride in the current Icelandic ash plume.

“We think, on the basis of the expected deposition patterns and the nature of the ash, that there is a minimal risk to the environment.”

Samples of rainwater are being collected over the weekend, which will be analysed for acidity and soluble fluoride.

Radiation measurements taken across the UK and Europe indicate there is no evidence that the volcanic ash contains radioactive materials of any significance.

The Scottish Air Quality Database contains the most up-to-date continuous monitoring information across Scotland. This can be accessed at All concentrations have remained low at all monitoring sites across Scotland.

Of the ash collected, Prof Curran said: “Initially a small portion of the Lerwick sample was placed on a microscope slide for examination. The sample was dark grey, black in appearance. Under microscope there were aggregrates of dark grey, black particles possibly opaque material covered in a dark deposit. This was interspersed with regular shaped angular particles of glassy appearance …

“Most particles showed similar composition consisting of silicon, oxygen, aluminium, sodium, calcium, magnesium, potassium, iron and chloride. There was no evidence of high concentrations of fluorine in this sample.

“Based on the morphology of the particles (angular with conchoidal fracture faces) and the fairly uniform elemental composition of the particles it is likely that the sample is of volcanic origin.”


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