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DHS news release

September 30, 2004

Contact: Bonnie Widerburg (503) 731-4180

Public health officials say volcanic ash poses low hazard


Volcanic ash from a potential volcanic eruption of Mt. St. Helens is expected to pose a low health risk, according to public health officials in the Oregon Department of Human Services (DHS) and the Oregon Health and Sciences University.

The recent earthquakes on Mt. St. Helens, just north of Oregon, have raised public concerns about possible health effects from being exposed to volcanic ash that might blow into our state.

Grant Higginson, M.D., public health officer in DHS, advises people to take the following precautions:

  • The health risk is low for people who are away from the mountain. Exposure to volcanic ash is primarily linked to eye and breathing irritation.
  • People with chronic respiratory diseases are likely to be more at risk from exposure to the ash and dust. They should take extra precautions to avoid exposure.
  • In the event of an eruption and ash reaching Oregon, wearing a paper dust mask or using a cloth over the mouth when outdoors and avoiding dust where possible will provide adequate protection for most people.
Higginson said research carried out following the 1980 eruption of the Mt. St. Helens Volcano showed there is no evidence of long-term health effects from exposure to volcanic ash and dust.

For more detailed information about specific steps and precautions, see the Volcanic Ash Fact Sheet on the DHS Website.