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The International Volcanic Health Hazard Network (IVHHN): reflections on 20 years of progress

Horwell, C. J.; Baxter, P. J.; Damby, D. E.; Elias, T.; Ilyinskaya, E.; Sparks, R. S. J.; Stewart, C.; Tomašek, I.

The International Volcanic Health Hazard Network (IVHHN): reflections on 20 years of progress Thumbnail


P. J. Baxter

D. E. Damby

T. Elias

E. Ilyinskaya

R. S. J. Sparks

C. Stewart

I. Tomašek


The International Volcanic Health Hazard Network (IVHHN; is an interdisciplinary organization which coordinates research and provides advice on volcanic health hazards and impacts.

The field of research on the human health hazards and impacts of volcanic eruptions dates to 1980 with the eruption of Mount St. Helens (Baxter et al., 1981; Buist and Bernstein, 1986; Horwell and Baxter, 2006). The principal concerns revolved around the respirable crystalline silica (RCS) content of volcanic ash, which blanketed a vast swath of the north-western United States, and its potential to cause the fibrotic lung disease silicosis in exposed communities. A well-known occupational hazard for mine and quarry workers exposed to natural mineral dusts, the consequences of 24-h exposure to the airborne ash, for children and the public, in general, required urgent appraisal to allay panic amongst the million people living and working in the affected areas.

State and federal agencies were immediately mobilised to respond to the emergency and the later recovery phases of the disaster, in collaboration with academic and other research groups. The public health component of this vast undertaking involved many disciplines and was summarised in a volume edited by Buist and Bernstein (1986). The research at Mount St. Helens was reassuring in resolving the health concerns at the time, but also highlighted the future need to systematically identify and quantify the hazards and provide informed advice on mitigation measures because the mineralogy of volcanic ash, along with its respiratory hazard, varies with every eruption.

The Mount St. Helens response was, without doubt, enabled by the financial resources and expertise in the United States. Indeed, the next eruptions to receive a concerted (or any) health response were related to other high-income countries: Sakurajima volcano, Japan, starting in the 1980s (reviewed by Hillman et al., 2012), and Soufrière Hills volcano, Montserrat, a British Overseas Territory, in the late 1990s (reviewed by Baxter et al., 2014), where RCS concentrations were substantially higher than at Mount St. Helens, presenting a significant silicosis risk for the islanders that required special mitigation measures (Hincks et al., 2006). The UK government had the legal responsibility for the health and safety of the Montserrat population and funded the health research as well as supporting the island’s disaster management. Apart from these events, individual research studies have been conducted at various volcanoes (reviewed in Horwell and Baxter, 2006; Mueller et al., 2020b; Stewart et al., 2022), but coordinated, interdisciplinary health responses have been rare, leaving communities both proximal and distal to volcanically active areas uninformed about exposure to airborne gas and ash emissions - and other volcanic hazards - and at risk.

Interdisciplinary responses that inform hazard assessments are essential because critical public health decisions need to be made early in the exposure timeframe. Rapid geochemical and toxicological assessments can identify hazardous characteristics of volcanic ash (Horwell et al., 2013) that could otherwise take years or decades to manifest as respiratory or other chronic diseases. Immediate exposure assessment through ambient air quality monitoring of particles and gases can provide essential data for epidemiological and clinical studies, linking acute symptoms and future diseases to the correct exposure source (Mueller et al., 2020b; Whitty et al., 2020). Personal monitoring of high-risk individuals, such as outdoor workers, can justify implementation of mitigating measures to reduce exposures. Yet, often, experts in these different areas of environmental health sciences are not working together routinely prior to an eruption. Additionally, these experts may be inexperienced in the collection and analysis of volcanic materials.


Horwell, C. J., Baxter, P. J., Damby, D. E., Elias, T., Ilyinskaya, E., Sparks, R. S. J., …Tomašek, I. (2023). The International Volcanic Health Hazard Network (IVHHN): reflections on 20 years of progress. Frontiers in Earth Science, 11, Article 1213363.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Aug 8, 2023
Online Publication Date Aug 17, 2023
Publication Date 2023
Deposit Date Sep 19, 2023
Publicly Available Date Sep 19, 2023
Journal Frontiers in Earth Science
Publisher Frontiers Media
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 11
Article Number 1213363
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Published Journal Article (1.7 Mb)


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Copyright Statement
© 2023 Horwell, Baxter, Damby, Elias, Ilyinskaya, Sparks, Stewart and Tomašek. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

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