Shortly after Taal Volcano’s eruption last Sunday, traces of volcanic ash reached not only the cities and provinces close to Tagaytay, but also many parts of Metro Manila. This left everyone scrambling to get a hold of N95 face masks, as information shared on social media emphasized the importance of wearing it to protect ourselves from the health hazards caused by exposure to volcanic ash.
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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, breathing in volcanic ash may pose health problems such as asthma, emphysema, and other chronic lung diseases problems to infants, elderly people, and people with respiratory conditions. Ash is gritty, abrasive, sometimes corrosive, and always unpleasant. Ash particles may contain crystalline silica, a material that causes a respiratory disease called silicosis. Small ash particles can also scratch the front of the eye.
“Most gases from a volcano quickly blow away,” the CDC website explains. “However, heavy gases such as carbon dioxide and hydrogen sulfide can collect in low-lying areas. The most common volcanic gas is water vapor, followed by carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide. Sulfur dioxide can cause breathing problems in both healthy people and people with asthma and other respiratory problems. Other volcanic gases include hydrogen chloride, carbon monoxide, and hydrogen fluoride. Amounts of these gases vary widely from one volcanic eruption to the next.”
Although gases usually blow away rapidly, it is possible that people who are close to the volcano or who are in the low-lying areas downwind may be exposed to levels that may affect health. At low levels, gases can irritate the eyes, nose, and throat. At higher levels, gases can cause rapid breathing, headache, dizziness, swelling and spasm of the throat, and suffocation.
The International Volcanic Health Hazard Network (IVHHN), an umbrella organization for all research and information on the health hazards and impacts of volcanic eruptions, says the most effective respiratory protection for adults is to wear a well-fitting, industry-certified facemask such as a N95 mask (also called P2, FFP2 or DS2 in different parts of the world). These are highly efficient at filtering ash and are usually designed to fit adult faces well, but may be too big for children.
A standard, pleated surgical mask will be good at filtering ash, as long as it fits well to the face. If it does not, it will provide less protection than an industry-certified face mask.
Hard-cup (also called nuisance-dust), ‘fashion’ and scooter masks are less effective at filtering ash compared to industry-certified and surgical masks, and may not fit well to the face.
Cloth materials (e.g., bandanas, t-shirts, veils, handkerchiefs) worn over the nose and mouth are less effective at filtering ash than most masks, so will offer less protection and they also tend not to fit well.
Increasing the number of layers of cloth improves the ability to filter ash but will still be less effective at filtering ash than most facemasks. Wetting materials does not improve the ability of masks or cloth to filter volcanic ash.
Many drugstores have reportedly ran out of stocks of the N95 masks, causing worry especially to the nearby cities and provinces who need it the most. Here are some shops that carry the N95 face mask:
Call or text 0906-3259238
0977-8353421 / 0917-5981403
N95 MASK now available in the following branches:
K2 Drug Olongapo Branch (in front of Gordon Hospital)
K2 Pharmacy Trece Martires Branch (in front of Emilio Aguinaldo Memorial Hospital)
K2 Drug Angeles, Pampanga (in front of Angeles University Foundation)
K2 Drug Taft (in front of Philippine General Hospital)
*They are currently restocking their branches. Follow their Facebook page for branch availability updates.
*They might not be able to respond to Facebook inquiries right away.
Store visits are highly encouraged. Store is located at 1629 Bambang St., Sta. Cruz, Manila
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735-0581 to 83; 495-0187 to 88
Email [email protected]
Toll free: 1-800-1-888-555
Email: [email protected]