Ashfall

Teodoro B. Padilla -- Medicine Matters

Posted at Jan 14 2020 12:23 PM

More than 18,000 people are now seeking shelter in 76 evacuation centers after alert level 4 was raised over Taal Volcano, with the government warning that a hazardous explosive eruption is imminent. 

Citing the “high risk to pyroclastic density currents and volcanic tsunami,” the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (PHIVOLCS) recommended that all residents within a 14-kilometer radius of the volcano’s crater be evacuated. 

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said that close to half a million people are living within the 14-km danger zone and another half a million people reside within the 17-km danger zone. 

With the ongoing volcano unrest, the PHAPCares Foundation will be sending thousands of face and N-95 masks as well as needed medicines for use of the evacuees and responders. As the corporate social responsibility arm of the Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Association of the Philippines (PHAP), the PHAPCares Foundation will also be spearheading the collective response of the organization to provide assistance to the evacuees. PHAPCares Foundation executive director Dr. Rosarita Siasoco is coordinating the donation of anti-asthma medicines, drinking water and sleeping mats among other essential medicines and relief items for the evacuees. 

Taal Volcano showed increased steaming activity in at least five spots inside its main crater, which culminated in a phreatic explosion and a plume approximately 100 meters high. The US Geological Survey said that everyone in the ashfall zone will be exposed to the effects of volcanic ash. 

Volcanic ash consists of tiny jagged pieces of rock and glass. It is hard, abrasive, mildly corrosive, conducts electricity when wet, and does not dissolve in water. It is spread over broad areas by wind. 

The USGS said that ashfalls can turn daylight into complete darkness and could be accompanied by rain and lightning with strong smell of sulfur. It could result in power outages, cut communication lines, and disorientate people affected by the ashfall. 

Ashfall could infiltrate all except for tightly sealed buildings and machineries. Ash is often small enough (less than 10 microns) to be inhaled deeply into the lungs, which may trigger respiratory concerns, or even eye and skin problems. 

With these, it is important to avoid exposure to ash. A way to minimize exposure to airborne ash is by using dust or filter masks or even a wet cloth or handkerchief. Those who may have existing lung illnesses are urged to take special care so as to avoid exposure to airborne ash, and ensure they have their medication with them. 

If heavy ashfall continues, roofs may collapse due to the heavy weight of the ash or it may cause accidents due to poor visibility, and slippery roads and walkways. Affected communities may also experience increased levels of psychological distress. 

The USGS said that knowing what to expect during and after an ashfall can help people reduce anxiety and uncertainty, and prepare their families and communities to deal with ashfall effectively. 

The International Volcanic Health Hazard Network (IVHHN) provided the following recommendations: 

•    Limit driving and stay indoors if possible; 
•    Reduce ash in the house by keeping all doors and windows closed whenever possible;
•    Wear effective dust masks or if no approved mask is available, a fabric mask improvised from cloth will filter out larger ash particles. Dampening the fabric with water will improve its effectiveness; 
•    Stay indoors particularly for those with chronic bronchitis, emphysema or asthma;
•    Wear goggles or corrective glasses instead of contact lenses to protect eyes from irritation; 
•    Collect enough drinking water for at least one week (up to one gallon or 3 to 4 liters per person per day). Ash will usually make drinking water unpalatable (sour, metallic or bitter tasting) before it presents a health risk. Freshly fallen ash particles can have acidic coatings, which could then pollute local water supplies; 
•    Eat vegetables from ash-covered fields only after washing them with clean water; and 
•    Lightly water down the ash deposits before they are removed by shoveling, being careful not to excessively wet the deposits on roofs.

The IVHHN also said that while children face the same hazards from the suspension of ash as other age groups, their exposure may be increased since they are smaller and may less likely to adopt reasonable preventive measures. It recommended that as much as possible, children must stay indoors but if they must be outdoors, they should wear approved masks. They are also advised against strenuous play when ash is in the air, since it leads to heavier breathing, drawing small particles more deeply into the lungs. 

With the continued unrest of Taal, we urge affected residents to stay vigilant, remain calm and follow all advisories and safety procedures issued by authorities. 

On the part of PHAP and its Members, we will continue monitoring and assessing needs of people affected by the eruption to provide assistance through the PHAPCares Foundation. 

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The author is the executive director of Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Association of the Philippines (PHAP). Medicine Matters is a PHAP column which aims to promote awareness on public health and healthcare-related issues. PHAP and its member companies represent the research-based pharmaceutical and healthcare industry. 

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.