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Practical applications of Medical Geology: physicochemical characterisation of volcanic ash


Ines Tomašek
AMGC, Vrije Universiteit Brussel

ABSTRACT: Volcanic ash is a product of volcanic eruptions, generated by fragmentation of magma and volcanic rocks, consisting of fine fragments of magmatic glass, crystals, and other rocks (lithic material) with a diameter below 2 mm. During its eruption, transport and deposition, ash poses a range of hazards to human (and animal) health over widely varying spatial and temporal scales. Specifically, the potential adverse health outcomes of exposure to inhalable volcanic ash have been a long-standing concern, especially as it is known that respirable-sized particles can potentially contribute towards the onset or exacerbation of respiratory and cardiovascular diseases.
The physicochemical properties of volcanic ash that may influence its biological reactivity include size, shape, surface area, mineralogical composition and physicochemical properties of ash surfaces. These properties dictate the fate of the particles in the respiratory tract, i.e., they control dosimetry parameters such as deposition, retention, dissolution, clearance and translocation in the lungs.
The talk will include an overview of multidisciplinary approaches and methods, across geochemistry and particle toxicology, that can be used to characterise particle properties relevant for respiratory health. I will present some ongoing work and research plans which are supported by the VUB-SRP project.