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

Ines Tomasek, David E. Damby, Daniele Andronico, Peter Baxter, Imke Boonen, Philippe Claeys, Michael Denison, Claire J. Horwell, Matthieu Kervyn, Ulrich Kueppers, Manolis Romanias, Marc Elskens

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)
74 Downloads (Pure)


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 dibenzop- 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.
Original languageEnglish
Article number30
Number of pages11
JournalBulletin of Volcanology
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 8 Apr 2021


  • volcanic ash
  • human health
  • organic compounds
  • CALUX bioassay
  • Urban pollutant
  • Hazard assessment


Dive into the research topics of 'Assessing the biological reactivity of organic compounds on volcanic ash: implications for human health hazard'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this