Evaluation of respiratory health hazard of ash from the 2010-2019 eruption of Sinabung volcano, Indonesia


Sinabung volcano, Sumatra, had its first eruption in 1,200 years in 2010 and has been in a period of almost continuous eruption since then, exhibiting intermittent explosions and lava dome/flow collapses. These events have generated large ash clouds which have coated surrounding towns and villages in fine particulate deposits. This interdisciplinary project will conduct the first research into the respiratory health hazard and impact of the ash, thorough physicochemical analyses of ash samples, air quality monitoring and qualitative interviews with communities and practitioners, living and working around the volcano, and policy-makers.

The physicochemical analyses will follow the protocol developed by the International Volcanic Health Hazard Network (https://www.ivhhn.org/guidelines) and will focus on parameters thought to affect toxicity such as particle size, crystalline silica content, surface area and leachable elements. A low-cost sensor network will be set up and maintained, with the support of community members, to enable long term monitoring of air quality over the research duration, to define the exposure hazard from ash resuspension or fresh ashfall, as well as raising awareness of the use of air quality data in decision making for community health protection. The student will conduct short surveys with community members on the types of respiratory protection used during recent exposures and their perceptions of effectiveness and any health impacts from ash inhalation, and will conduct detailed interviews with local disaster management agencies, health care agencies, NGOs and policy-makers to explore and understand their decision-making processes and policies for recommending/providing respiratory protection for communities. The findings of the research will benefit communities and agencies, by increasing understanding of when there is a need to take protective actions when ash is airborne and by informing public health protection decisions during periods of ash resuspension or future eruptive episodes. The student will help to build a network of academics and governmental and non-governmental agency representatives who will support the project, disseminate the findings, and provide the foundation for future health studies, should the hazard analysis highlight the need for further investigation.

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Image Captions

Sinabung volcano, Sumatra and ash-covered fields (image by Rendy Cipta Muliawan under CC licensing CCBY2.0)


The student will be fully trained in physicochemical analyses, air quality monitoring and how to design, administer and analyse data from questionnaires and interviews. It would be beneficial, but not essential, if the student came to the project with expertise in one of these methodologies.

For the physicochemical analyses, the student will use a Mastersizer 3000 laser diffractometer for particle size analysis, an X-ray Diffractometer for crystalline silica quantification, a BET nitrogen adsorption instrument for surface area analysis and mass spectrometry for measurement of leachable elements, all at Durham University. If Sinabung dome rock is available, the student may also undertake electron microscopy to study crystalline silica morphology and formation.

For the air quality monitoring, the student will deploy a network of low cost particulate sensors (e.g. PurpleAir, USA) which are very easy to install and require little maintenance.

For the social research, the student will design, administer and analyse a short questionnaire for the public and an interview framework for the agencies/NGOs.

Project Timeline

Year 1

• 4 months – literature review and project planning, including potential on-site (Sumatra) meeting with project collaborators (with external funding to enable international travel for UK project team)
• 6 months – sourcing of ash from archives and any fresh deposits; questionnaire development, ethical approval.
• 2 months – fieldwork to conduct the social surveys and set up air quality monitoring network.

Year 2

• 2 months – Training in physicochemical analyses and sample preparation
• 10 months – Physicochemical analyses and analyses of questionnaire data

Year 3

• 2 months – Analysis of air quality monitoring data
• 10 months – Writing up chapters and papers, presentation of data at conference

Year 3.5

• 2 weeks – Return to field to present research findings to communities and agencies
• 5 months – Completion of papers and thesis write up

& Skills

The student will receive a unique training experience across the earth, exposure, social and health sciences with input from UK and Indonesian experts. This will give them the expertise to enter an academic or practitioner career dealing with community exposures to airborne pollutants.

References & further reading

Horwell, C.J., Ferdiwijaya, D., Wahyudi, T. & Dominelli, L. (2019). Use of respiratory protection in Yogyakarta during the 2014 eruption of Kelud, Indonesia: Community and agency perspectives. Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research 382: 92-102.
Covey, J., Horwell, C.J., Rachmawati, L., Ogawa, R., Martin-del Pozzo, A.L., Armienta, M.A., Nugroho, F. & Dominelli, L. (2019). Factors motivating the use of respiratory protection against volcanic ashfall a comparative analysis of communities in Japan, Indonesia and Mexico. International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction 35: 101066.
Galea, K.S., Covey, J., Mutia Timur, S., Horwell, C.J., Nugroho, F. & Mueller, W. (2018). Health Interventions in Volcanic Eruptions—Community Wearability Assessment of Respiratory Protection against Volcanic Ash from Mt Sinabung, Indonesia. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 15(11): 2359
Mueller, W., Horwell, C.J., Apsley, A., Steinle, S., McPherson, S., Cherrie, J.W. & Galea, K.S. (2018). The effectiveness of respiratory protection worn by communities to protect from volcanic ash inhalation. Part I: Filtration efficiency tests. International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health 221(6): 967-976.
Damby, D.E., Horwell, C.J., Baxter, P.J., Delmelle, P., Donaldson, K., Dunster, C., Fubini, B., Murphy, F.A., Nattrass, C., Sweeney,S., Tetley, T.D. & Tomatis, M. (2013). The respiratory health hazard of tephra from the 2010 Centennial eruption of Merapi with implications for occupational mining of deposits. Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research 261: 376-387.
Horwell, C.J., Baxter, P.J., Hillman, S.E., Calkins, J.A., Damby, D.E., Delmelle, P., Donaldson, K., Dunster, C., Fubini, B., Hoskuldsson, A., Kelly, F.J., Larsen, G., Le Blond, J.S., Livi, K.J.T., Mendis, B., Murphy, F., Nattrass, C., Sweeney, S., Tetley, T.D., Thordarson, T. and Tomatis, M., 2013. Physicochemical and toxicological profiling of ash from the 2010 and 2011 eruptions of Eyjafjallajökull and Grímsvötn volcanoes, Iceland using a rapid respiratory hazard assessment protocol. Environmental Research, 127: 63-73.
Horwell, C.J., Williamson, B.J., Le Blond, J.S., Donaldson, K., Damby, D.E. and Bowen, L., 2012. The structure of volcanic cristobalite in relation to its toxicity; relevance for the variable crystalline silica hazard. Particle and Fibre Toxicology, 9: 44.
Horwell, C.J. and Baxter, P.J., 2006. The respiratory health hazards of volcanic ash: a review for volcanic risk mitigation. Bulletin of Volcanology, 69(1): 1-24.

Further Information

Prof Claire Horwell: claire.horwell@durham.ac.uk

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