A New Evidence Base for Respiratory Health Interventions in Volcanic Eruption Crises

Grant awarded: £599,939

Lead organisation: Durham University

Partnering organisations: Kagoshima University, Japan; University of Indonesia; Institute of Occupational Medicine, Edinburgh; University of Mexico (UNAM); Pan American Health Organization; Save the Children Indonesia; Red Cross Indonesia;B International Society for Respiratory Protection

Project length: 2015-2017

Study locations: Mexico, Indonesia, Japan

Principal Investigator: Dr Claire Horwell


Volcanic ash inhalation can trigger respiratory disease and cause acute anxiety, leading to increased vulnerability during eruptions. Agencies distribute face masks which, likely, have poor facial seals and inadequately filter fine-grained particles. High-efficiency masks, though, may under perform if not fit-tested, are costly and uncomfortable. We ask: 1) Are some types of respiratory protection more effective in a volcanic crisis than others (and is some protection better than no protection)? 2) How should generic advice be modified for different cultures, climates and economies? In the first study of its kind, we will determine the effectiveness of a range of ‘masks’ from clothing to commercial respirators (through laboratory testing), whether mask wearing has a measurable impact on respiratory health (through a randomized clinical trial); and explore behavioural factors influencing mask use in different societies (through social surveys and interviews).

Expected outcomes:

This research will transform humanitarian practice during volcanic crises. Providing robust evidence on effective respiratory protection interventions will allow GOs and NGOs to make informed decisions when procuring, distributing and recommending protection. Our findings will be translated into official guidance, facilitating rapid, global change in practice. This will be actioned by our primary humanitarian partner, PAHO (a regional office of the WHO). WHO is the first port of call for definitive advice that GOs and NGOs seek in health-related decision-making during crises. The recommendations will be disseminated on WHO’s website and mailing list (to 27,000 experts worldwide) and through the International Volcanic Health Hazard Network’s website (www.ivhhn.org; the umbrella organisation for all volcanic health-related research and dissemination). In addition, we will produce and distribute ‘toolkits’ for use by local communities and agencies, instructing them on how to best protect themselves from volcanic ash inhalation.


Elrha is a registered charity in England and Wales (1177110).

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