Volcanic Ash


Volcanic ash belongs to the fine powdered rocks, and is composed of various minerals and amorphous phases.

Synonyms/Trade Names:



Amorphous silicates constitute 65% of the dust and, in addition, varying concentrations of iron and aluminum oxides, lime, soda, potash, crystalline silica (1-6%), and zeolites; compare to zeolite.

Medical Importance:

Key Hazards:

Fibrogenic, acute intoxication.

Involved Organs:



Exposure may occur after volcanic eruptions, which can distribute the ash over hundreds of square miles.


Eruptions are considered to be harmless, if the dust concentration in the air does not exceed 10 mg of dust/m3 of air.


High concentrations induce acute inflammation of the upper and lower respiratory tract and have, according to the results of animal experiments, a fibrogenic potency.

Lung Diseases:

Acute irritative inflammation of the lung, and, slow progressive fibrosis.

Clinical Presentation:

Patients present with cough, dyspnea, and adult respiratory distress syndrome. The conducting airways may be occluded with dust-laden mucus causing death from suffocation.


Chest radiographs show diffuse densities or granular infiltrates.

Lung Function:

Usually obstructive changes.

Bronchoalveolar Lavage:

The lavage fluid contains amounts of viscous mucus and dust particles.



The lungs are heavy, of dark-grayish color, and edematous.


The conducting airways are filled with grayish-black, viscous mucus. The bronchial walls and distant airways display collections of acute inflammatory infiltrates.


Usually good, and depending on the amount of inhaled dust particles. Survivors of severe intoxication may develop slow progressive interstitial fibrosis.

Additional Diseases:



search Pubmed for Volcanic Ash

Adler KB, Mossman BT, Butler GB, Jean LM, Craighead JE: Interaction of Mt. St Helens volcanic ash with cells of the respiratory epithelium. Environ Res 2 (1984) 346-361
Adler KB, Mossman BT, Butler GB, Jean LM, Craighead JM: Interaction of Mt. St Helens volcanic ash with cells of the respiratory epithelium. Environ Res 35 (1984) 346-361
Arnbjornsson E, Arnbjornsson A, Olafsson A: Thyreoid cancer incidence in relation to volcanic ash. Arch Environ Health 1 (1986) 36-40
Buist AS, Vollmer WM, Johnson LR, Bernstein RS: A four-year prospective study of the respiratory effects of volcanic ash from Mt. St Helens. Am Rev Respir Dis 4 (1986) 526-534
Dail DH, Hammar SP: Pulmonary Pathology. Springer, New York (1988)
Kayser K: Analytical Lung Pathology. Springer, Heidelberg, New York (1992)
Martin TR, Wehner AP, Butler J: Pulmonary toxicity of Mt. St. Helens volcanic ash. A review of experimental studies. Am Rev Respir Dis 128 (1983) 158-162
Martin TR, Ayars G, Butler J, Altman JC: The comperative toxicity of volcanic ash and quartz. Effects on cells derived from the human lung. Am Rev Respir Dis 130 (1984) 778-782
Olenchock SA, Mull JC, Mentnech MS, Lewis DM, Bernstein RS: Changes in humoral immunologic parameters after exposure to volcanic ash. J Toxicol Environ Health 11 (1983) 395-404
Prata AJ, Barton IJ, Johnson RW, Kamo K, Kingwell J: Hazard from volcanic ash. Nature. 354 (1991) 25
Schreider JP, Culbertson MR, Raabe OG: Comparative pulmonary fibrogenic potential of selected particles. Environ Res 38 (1985) 256-274
Shirakawa M, Fukushima R, Kyushima K: Experimental studies on the effect of Mt. Sakurajima volcanic ashes on the respiratory organs. Sangyo Igaku 26 (1984) 130-146
Vallyathan V, Mentnech MS, Tucker JH, Green FH: Pulmonary response to Mt. St Helens’ volcanic ash. Environ Res 30 (1983) 361-371
Wakisaka I, Yanagihashi T, Sato M, Tomari T: Health effects of volcanic air pollution an analysis of the national health insurance. Nippon Eiseigaku Zasshi 44 (1989) 977-986
Yano E, Yokoyama Y, Nishii S: Chronic pulmonary effects of volcanic ash: an epidemiological study. Arch Environ Health 2 (1986) 94-98