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Assessing the biological reactivity of organic compounds on volcanic ash: implications for human health hazard

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Tomašek, Ines 
Damby, David E. 
Andronico, Daniele 
Baxter, Peter J. 
Boonen, Imke 


Abstract: Exposure to volcanic ash is a long-standing health concern for people living near active volcanoes and in distal urban areas. During transport and deposition, ash is subjected to various physicochemical processes that may change its surface composition and, consequently, bioreactivity. One such process is the interaction with anthropogenic pollutants; however, the potential for adsorbed, deleterious organic compounds to directly impact human health is unknown. We use an in vitro bioanalytical approach to screen for the presence of organic compounds of toxicological concern on ash surfaces and assess their biological potency. These compounds include polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), polychlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxins and dibenzofurans (PCDD/Fs) and dioxin-like polychlorinated biphenyls (dlPCBs). Analysis of ash collected in or near urbanised areas at five active volcanoes across the world (Etna, Italy; Fuego, Guatemala; Kelud, Indonesia; Sakurajima, Japan; Tungurahua, Ecuador) using the bioassay inferred the presence of such compounds on all samples. A relatively low response to PCDD/Fs and the absence of a dlPCBs response in the bioassay suggest that the measured activity is dominated by PAHs and PAH-like compounds. This study is the first to demonstrate a biological potency of organic pollutants associated with volcanic ash particles. According to our estimations, they are present in quantities below recommended exposure limits and likely pose a low direct concern for human health.


Funder: VUB Strategic Research Program


Research Article, Volcanic ash, Urban pollution, Health hazard, Organic compounds, Bioreactivity, CALUX bioassay

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Bulletin of Volcanology

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Springer Berlin Heidelberg
Research Foundation Flanders (FWOKN299)
FP7 Marie Sklodowska-Curie Actions Initial Training Network (607905)