Skip to main content

Research Repository

Advanced Search

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

Tomašek, I.; Damby, D.E.; Andronico, D.; Baxter, P.J.; Boonen, I.; Claeys, P.; Denison, M.S.; Horwell, C.J.; Kervyn, M.; Kueppers, U.; Romanias, M.N.; Elskens, M.

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


I. Tomašek

D.E. Damby

D. Andronico

P.J. Baxter

I. Boonen

P. Claeys

M.S. Denison

M. Kervyn

U. Kueppers

M.N. Romanias

M. Elskens


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 dibenzo-p-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.


Tomašek, I., Damby, D., Andronico, D., Baxter, P., Boonen, I., Claeys, P., …Elskens, M. (2021). Assessing the biological reactivity of organic compounds on volcanic ash: implications for human health hazard. Bulletin of Volcanology, 83(5), Article 30.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Mar 22, 2021
Online Publication Date Apr 8, 2021
Publication Date 2021
Deposit Date Apr 9, 2021
Publicly Available Date Apr 9, 2021
Journal Bulletin of Volcanology
Print ISSN 0258-8900
Electronic ISSN 1432-0819
Publisher Springer
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 83
Issue 5
Article Number 30


Published Journal Article (1.3 Mb)

Publisher Licence URL

Copyright Statement
This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article's Creative Commons licence, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article's Creative Commons licence and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this licence, visit

You might also like

Downloadable Citations