The La Soufrière volcanic eruption in St. Vincent began to impact Barbados from late Friday afternoon on April 9th, 2021 with significant ashfall beginning on Saturday April 10th, 2021.

Volcanic ash contains sulphur, sulphuric acid, sulphur dioxide, silica, glass, basalt, fluorides, polycyclic hydrocarbon, calcium sulphate, sodium chloride, trace metals and other particulate matter. Coatings of these strong acids on particulate matter is particularly irritant to the airways when inhaled and to the mucous membranes of the eyes. Fine (< 1 µMol)and ultra fine (< 0.01 µMol) particles are considered the most respirable particles and these are not visible to the naked eye. i

Respiratory system

Possible acute (short term)effects: i

  • Attacks of asthma and bronchitis, with an increased reporting of cough, breathlessness, chest tightness, and wheezing due to irritation of the lining of the airways by fine particles
  • Asthma attacks (wheezing, cough and chest tightness) in persons not known to be asthmatic
  • Exacerbation of previously present disease, e.g.COPD and chronic bronchitis or advanced heart problemssuch as heart failure

Potential chronic (long term) effects:i

  • Greatest concern is development of silicosis a form of chronic lung disease, also known as pneumoultramicroscopicsilicavolcanosis when specifically related to volcanic ash. This is a diffuse nodular fibrosis (scarring) of the lungs.For this to occur there needs to be: a high proportion of fine particles in the ash; a high concentration of crystalline silica and prolonged exposure to the ash (months to years). Most persons develop mild early lung changes which cause no symptoms but the condition can progress even after ash exposure has ceased and may lead togradual, premature development of symptoms such as shortness of breath and premature death
  • Exposure to crystalline silica can also precipitate a recurrence of previously silent tuberculosis of the lungs
  • Silicosis may also lead to a higher-than- average risk of developing lung cancer
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a general reaction of the lung to dust particles following prolonged exposure, sometimes leading to the irreversible narrowing of the airways and chronic mucous hypersecretion. This may also be characterized by shortness of breath, cough producing copious mucous and wheezing
  • Another chronic lung disease caused by high exposure to ash and silicate dust is non-specific pneumoconiosis, a condition not unlike silicosis, but less harmful

Ears/ Nose/Throatii

Because of exposure of the upper airway to acidic gases, there may be acute (chemical) sinusitis, sore throat and hoarseness, loss of voice, nasal congestion and burning, rhinitis (nasal discharge).


Skin conditionssuch as eczema and contact dermatitis with infected skin from itching may be precipitated. The skin may become red and inflamed or pruritic (itchy).


  • Corneal abrasions or scratches
  • Acute conjunctivitis or the inflammation of the conjunctival sac that surrounds the eyeball due to the presence of ash, which leads to redness, burning of the eyes, and photosensitivity
  • Eyes feeling as though there are foreign particles in them
  • Eyes becoming painful, itchy or bloodshot
  • Sticky discharge or tearing

Mental healthiii

  • Increase in generalized anxiety, panic disorder and major depression may be precipitatedby uncertainty, a sense of helplessness; loneliness and social isolation even in those not previously affected
  • Pre-existing mental health conditions may alsobe exacerbated


  • We advise staying indoors as much as possible and keep children from playing outdoors
  • Asthmatics and those with chronic disease must be sure to have all medications at hand including preventer (steroid) inhalers and nasalsprays
  • Keep windows closed and seal some windows with tape where needed
  • Leave clothes and shoes covered in ash at the door or outside
  • Donot attempt sweeping, vacuuming or dusting dry ash as aerosolization increases the risk of inhalation
  • Avoid central air conditioning. Wheresplit systemsare in operation these may be used and cleaned as soon as possible with a damp cloth or professionally
  • Use a mask when outdoors or when unable to protect from ash in an indoor environment. We recommend wearing KN95/ N95 masks particularly when outdoors for prolonged periods or double masking with surgical masks
  • While outdoors wear protective eyewear and goggles, particularly when cleaning up
  • Prevent exposure of hair and skin to ash by wearing head coverings, long-sleeved shirts and long pants
  • Wash all local fruits and vegetables to ensure removal of ash before consumption
  • Drivers should take precautions to prevent motor vehicular accidents due to poor visibility and skidding on wet ash
  • Reach out to healthcare professionals, religious leaders,counselors, friends and family for psychological support and do not suffer silently if you are feeling anxious or depressed
  • Do not neglect healthy eating, sleeping and wherever possible continue to exercise indoors with weights or low impact exercises
  • If feeling unwell, having persistent cough, chest tightness or wheezing, contact your health professional if interventions with correct use of prescribed treatments have not worked


[i]Bull Volcanol (2006) 69: 1–24 DOI 10.1007/s00445-006-0052-y( accessed April 11, 2021)

[i][i] (accessed April 12, 2021)

iii accessed April 12, 2021)

iv (accessed April 12, 2021)