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Respiratory health among professionals exposed to extreme SO2 levels from a volcanic eruption.

Journal article
Authors Hanne Krage Carlsen
Thor Aspelund
Haraldur Briem
Thorarinn Gislason
Thorsteinn Jóhannsson
Unnur Valdimarsdóttir
Thorolfur Gudnason
Published in Scandinavian journal of work, environment & health
Volume 45
Issue 3
Pages 312-5
ISSN 1795-990X
Publication year 2019
Published at Institute of Medicine, Department of Public Health and Community Medicine, Section of Occupational and environmental medicine
Pages 312-5
Language en
Keywords exposure; occupational exposure; occupational exposure; respiratory health; SO2; sulfur dioxide; volcanic environment; volcanic eruption; volcanic gas
Subject categories Environmental Health and Occupational Health, Public health science, Epidemiology


Objective The Holuhraun eruption of fall and winter 2014-15 produced large amounts of sulfur dioxide (SO 2). The aim of this study was to determine if exposure to extreme SO 2levels affected the health of individuals working at the eruption site. Methods During January‒March 2015, earth scientists, technicians, and law enforcement personnel who were about to work at the eruption site were invited to a respiratory health examination. Symptom reports and lung function measures, forced expiratory volume in one second (FEV 1) and forced vital capacity (FVC) were collected before and after an eruption site visit. Those with previous exposure (N=27) reported symptoms retrospectively. Results Altogether, 41 individuals were invited to participate, 32 underwent a clinical examination at a hospital respiratory health clinic (baseline); 27 reported symptoms during earlier visits to the eruption site (retrospective symptom reports), 17 were re-examined 1-6 days after visiting the eruption site (follow-up). All participants' lung function was within normal range both before and after exposure. At baseline, average FEV 1was 107.4% of predicted versus 106.6 at follow-up (P =0.82); average FVC was 107.0% of predicted at baseline versus 107.4% at follow-up (P=0.35). Eye and nasal irritation were more frequently reported during eruption site exposure by 24% versus 6% (P =0.37) for both. Conclusion Although "healthy-worker" effects cannot be excluded, our data indicate that SO 2exposure was associated with relatively mild and transient respiratory symptoms with no clinical signs of airway inflammation or airway obstruction.

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