WHO/Europe holds expert meeting on health effects of volcanic ash

WHO/Europe, in collaboration with WHO headquarters, convened an ad hoc scientific advisory group on the health effects of volcanic ash through a teleconference on 21 April. The group was set up to coordinate risk assessment, surveillance and monitoring of the volcanic ash cloud’s possible short- and long-term impact on public health.

The group proposed no major changes in advice at this stage. They confirmed that the WHO Air Quality Guidelines provide the basis for the current assessment of the health risks posed by the pollutants from the volcanic eruption, including particulate matter and several gases. They stressed the need for further, specific risk assessment, based on availability of new data and information. Further, the group proposed harmonizing the approaches to the analysis of dust samples and their attribution to the volcanic eruption.

Members of the group included experts from countries in the WHO European Region and the United States, specialized in the assessment of air quality, the impacts of air pollution on health, toxicology, and atmospheric chemistry. WHO/Europe, through its European Centre for Environment and Health, Bonn, Germany, is coordinating the work of the group, which will be convened regularly during the peak phase of the event.

WHO/Europe is keeping the governments of the European Member States informed through established procedures and making recommendations on effective ways to address the situation from a public health perspective. WHO coordinates its advice with partner agencies, including the European Union’s Directorate-General for Health and Consumers, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, and the European Food Safety Authority.