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Health effects following the Eyjafjallajökull volcanic eruption: a cohort study
  1. Hanne Krage Carlsen1,2,
  2. Arna Hauksdottir1,
  3. Unnur Anna Valdimarsdottir1,
  4. Thorarinn Gíslason3,
  5. Gunnlaug Einarsdottir4,
  6. Halldor Runolfsson5,
  7. Haraldur Briem6,
  8. Ragnhildur Gudrun Finnbjornsdottir1,
  9. Sigurdur Gudmundsson7,
  10. Thorir Björn Kolbeinsson8,
  11. Throstur Thorsteinsson9,
  12. Gudrun Pétursdóttir10
  1. 1Centre of Public Health Sciences, University of Iceland, Reykjavík, Iceland
  2. 2Department of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, University of Umeå, Umeå, Sweden
  3. 3Department of Respiratory Medicine and Sleep, Landspitali - The National University Hospital of Iceland, School of Health Sciences, University of Iceland, Reykjavík, Iceland
  4. 4Department for Environmental Quality, The Environment Agency of Iceland, Reykjavík, Iceland
  5. 5Department of Animal Health, MAST—Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority, Selfoss, Iceland
  6. 6Centre for Health Security and Communicable Disease Control, The Directorate of Health, Reykjavík, Iceland
  7. 7School of Health Sciences, University of Iceland, Reykjavík, Iceland
  8. 8The Health Care Institution of South Iceland, Selfoss, Iceland
  9. 9Environment and Natural Resources & Institute of Earth Sciences, University of Iceland, Reykjavík, Iceland
  10. 10Institute for Sustainability Studies, University of Iceland, Reykjavík, Iceland
  1. Correspondence to Guðrún Pétursdóttir; gudrun{at}


Objectives The study aimed to determine whether exposure to a volcanic eruption was associated with increased prevalence of physical and/or mental symptoms.

Design Cohort, with non-exposed control group.

Setting Natural disasters like volcanic eruptions constitute a major public-health threat. The Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull exposed residents in southern Iceland to continuous ash fall for more than 5 weeks in spring 2010. This study was conducted during November 2010–March 2011, 6–9 months after the Eyjafjallajökull eruption.

Participants Adult (18–80 years of age) eruption-exposed South Icelanders (N=1148) and a control population of residents of Skagafjörður, North Iceland (N=510). The participation rate was 72%.

Main outcome measures Physical symptoms in the previous year (chronic), in the previous month (recent), General Health Questionnaire (GHQ-12) measured psychological morbidity.

Results The likelihood of having symptoms during the last month was higher in the exposed population, such as; tightness in the chest (OR 2.5; 95% CI 1.1 to 5.8), cough (OR 2.6; 95% CI 1.7 to 3.9), phlegm (OR 2.1; 95% CI 1.3 to 3.2), eye irritation (OR 2.9; 95% CI 2.0 to 4.1) and psychological morbidity symptoms (OR 1.3; 95% CI 1.0 to 1.7). Respiratory symptoms during the last 12 months were also more common in the exposed population; cough (OR 2.2; 95% CI 1.6 to 2.9), dyspnoea (OR 1.6; 95% CI 1.1 to 2.3), although the prevalence of underlying asthma and heart disease was similar. Twice as many in the exposed population had two or more symptoms from nose, eyes or upper-respiratory tract (24% vs 13%, p<0.001); these individuals were also more likely to experience psychological morbidity (OR 4.7; 95% CI 3.4 to 6.5) compared with individuals with no symptoms. Most symptoms exhibited a dose–response pattern within the exposed population, corresponding to low, medium and high exposure to the eruption.

Conclusions 6–9 months after the Eyjafjallajökull eruption, residents living in the exposed area, particularly those closest to the volcano, had markedly increased prevalence of various physical symptoms. A portion of the exposed population reported multiple symptoms and may be at risk for long-term physical and psychological morbidity. Studies of long-term consequences are therefore warranted.

  • Epidemiology
  • Public Health

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