Bulletin of Volcanology

, Volume 74, Issue 4, pp 913–930 | Cite as

Sakurajima volcano: a physico-chemical study of the health consequences of long-term exposure to volcanic ash

  • S. E. Hillman
  • C. J. Horwell
  • A. L. Densmore
  • D. E. Damby
  • B. Fubini
  • Y. Ishimine
  • M. Tomatis
Research Article


Regular eruptions from Sakurajima volcano, Japan, repeatedly cover local urban areas with volcanic ash. The frequency of exposure of local populations to the ash led to substantial concerns about possible respiratory health hazards, resulting in many epidemiological and toxicological studies being carried out in the 1980s. However, very few mineralogical data were available for determination of whether the ash was sufficiently fine to present a respiratory hazard. In this study, we review the existing studies and carry out mineralogical, geochemical and toxicological analyses to address whether the ash from Sakurajima has the potential to cause respiratory health problems. The results show that the amount of respirable (<4 μm) material produced by the volcano is highly variable in different eruptions (1.1–18.8 vol.%). The finest samples derive from historical, plinian eruptions but considerable amounts of respirable material were also produced from the most recent vulcanian eruptive phase (since 1955). The amount of cristobalite, a crystalline silica polymorph which has the potential to cause chronic respiratory diseases, is ~3–5 wt.% in the bulk ash. Scanning electron microscope and transmission electron microscope imaging showed no fibrous particles similar to asbestos particles. Surface reactivity tests showed that the ash did not produce significant amounts of highly reactive hydroxyl radicals (0.09–1.35 μmol m−2 at 30 min.) in comparison to other volcanic ash types. A basic toxicology assay to assess the ability of ash to rupture the membrane of red blood cells showed low propensity for haemolysis. The findings suggest that the potential health hazard of the ash is low, but exposure and respiratory conditions should still be monitored given the high frequency and durations of exposure.


Sakurajima Japan Volcanic ash Health Respiratory Characterisation 



We thank the Disaster Prevention Research Institute (DPRI), Kyoto University, Japan and Hatfield College, Durham University, UK for providing essential funding to cover fieldwork in Japan. Thanks to Tom Bouquet for his help during the fieldtrip. Many thanks indeed to Dr. Miki (Sakurajima Volcano Research Center, Japan), Dr. Fukushima (Sakurajima Museum, Japan) and Mr. Matsusue (Kagoshima Local Meteorological Observatory of the Japan Meteorological Agency) who donated samples. Many thanks also to Prof. Iguchi and Prof. Ishihara (Sakurajima Volcano Research Center, Japan), Prof. Kinoshita (Kagoshima University, Japan), and Dr. Shimano (Fuji Tokoha University, Japan) for their hospitality, knowledge of the volcano and valuable feedback on the results. Thanks to Dr. Gordon Cressey (Natural History Museum, London, UK) and Dr. Jennifer Le Blond (University of Cambridge, UK) for help with XRD analyses and interpretation. Thanks also to Dr. Ivana Fenoglio (Turin University, Italy) and the rest of the Turin lab for training and advice with the EPR. Thanks to Scott Kimmins (Durham University) for help with the BET experiments, Dr. Budhika Mendis and Leon Bowen (Durham GJ Russell Microscopy Facility) for TEM analyses and for training on SEM, Nick Marsh (University of Leicester, UK) for help with XRF, Chris Rolfe and Steve Boreham (University of Cambridge) for training on the Malvern Mastersizer and Fiona Murphy (Centre for Inflammation Research, University of Edinburgh, UK) for haemolysis analyses. Thanks also to Dr. Peter Baxter (University of Cambridge), Prof. Eiji Yano (Teikyo University School of Medicine, Japan) and Dr. Ed Llewellin (Durham University) for constructive discussions on the manuscript and to Prof. Martin Reich (University of Chile) and Dr. Geoff Plumlee (USGS) for their helpful reviews.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • S. E. Hillman
    • 1
  • C. J. Horwell
    • 1
  • A. L. Densmore
    • 2
  • D. E. Damby
    • 1
  • B. Fubini
    • 3
  • Y. Ishimine
    • 4
  • M. Tomatis
    • 3
  1. 1.Institute of Hazard, Risk and Resilience, Department of Earth SciencesDurham UniversityDurhamUK
  2. 2.Institute of Hazard, Risk and Resilience, Department of GeographyDurham UniversityDurhamUK
  3. 3.Dipartimento di Chimica I.F.M., G. Scansetti Interdepartmental Center for Studies on Asbestos and other Toxic ParticulatesUniversità degli studi di TorinoTorinoItaly
  4. 4.Organ and Body Scale Team, Integrated Simulation of Living Matter Group, Computational Science Research ProgramRIKEN (The Institute of Physical and Chemical Research)WakoJapan

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