1 results for Austin, GL

  • An investigation into long-distance health impacts of the 1996 eruption of Mt Ruapehu, New Zealand

    Austin, GL; Dirks, Kim (2010-01)

    Journal article
    The University of Auckland Library

    During the June 1996 eruption of Mt Ruapehu, New Zealand, traces of fine particulate volcanic ash were observed in or near the cities of Hamilton and Auckland, 166e282 km from the volcano. Although no health impacts in these cities were attributed to the eruption, hospital records at both cities for the following month show the highest rates of respiratory mortality for the 1990s. Alternative explanations for this increase in respiratory mortality were investigated, including urban air pollution, adverse weather conditions and influenza. Comparable records from Wellington city, assumed to be outside the zone of ash dispersal, were used as a ‘control’. Our results suggest that at Hamilton, where non-volcanic factors can largely be eliminated as making a significant contribution, diffuse volcanic ashfall may have been an important factor in respiratory mortality during the weeks following the eruption. At Auckland, further away from the volcano but with a much larger population than Hamilton, a case for a weaker volcanic contribution can be made, but is more equivocal because of coincidentally high urban air pollution and cold, stable weather. These findings support the concept that diffuse fine volcanic ash poses a risk to respiratory health at greater distances from an eruption than is currently perceived. This is because the finest ‘respirable’ fraction of erupted material with potentially hazardous physico-chemical properties is likely to be ejected highest into the atmosphere and dispersed the greatest distance. If significant amounts reach large cities, then large numbers of individuals may be at risk, especially those already suffering poor respiratory health. This work has important implications for environmental health and hazard management in New Zealand and in other regions that may be susceptible to a similar volcanic threat.

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