A four-year prospective study of the respiratory effects of volcanic ash from Mt. St. Helens

A. S. Buist, W. M. Vollmer, L. R. Johnson, R. S. Bernstein, L. E. McCamant

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Abstract

This report describes the 4-yr follow-up of 712 loggers exposed over an extended period to varying levels of fresh volcanic ash from the 1980 eruptions of Mt. St. Helens. Concerns related to the irritant effect the ash might have on the airways and also to its fibrogenic potential if exposures were intense and continued over many years. Our subjects were divided into 3 groups: high, low, and no exposures. Baseline testing was begun in June 1980, 1 month after the major eruption, and follow-up testing continued on an annual basis through 1984; 88% of the loggers have been tested at least 3 times. Analysis of lung function data showed that a significant, exposure-related decline in FEV1 occurred during the first year after the eruption. The decline was short-lived, however, and by 1984 the differences between exposure groups were no longer significant. Self-reported symptoms of cough, phlegm, and wheeze showed a similar pattern. No ash-related changes were seen in chest roentgenograms taken in 1980 and in 1984. Our findings are consistent with the hypothesis that the inhaled ash caused mucus hypersecretion and/or airway inflammation that reversed when the exposure levels decreased. The ash levels to which the loggers were exposed were low compared with permissible occupational levels for nuisance dusts, but generally higher than the total suspended particulate levels permissible in ambient air.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)526-534
Number of pages9
JournalAmerican Review of Respiratory Disease
Volume133
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jun 11 1986

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pulmonary and Respiratory Medicine

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    Buist, A. S., Vollmer, W. M., Johnson, L. R., Bernstein, R. S., & McCamant, L. E. (1986). A four-year prospective study of the respiratory effects of volcanic ash from Mt. St. Helens. American Review of Respiratory Disease, 133(4), 526-534.