Although they happen infrequently, volcanoes can result in emergency situations and health conditions that impact children. The United States Geological Survey offers information on US volcanoes as well as volcano preparedness information for families.
Volcanic eruptions are unpredictable and can produce numerous conditions that can both impact health as well as interfere with travel. It may become necessary to either shelter-in-place or evacuate to protect your family. Families or caregivers may experience challenges after becoming isolated from medical care, pharmacies, and food and water.
- Residents in areas near erupting volcanos should pay close attention to announcements from officials and follow directives about voluntary and mandatory evacuations. People who do not evacuate can place themselves, or others, at risk or overtax emergency resources. Lava flow may block evacuation routes placing those that remain in imminent danger.
- To find a friend or relative who may have been displaced, see How Do I Find My Family?
- Personal preparedness is important for families that live in areas prone to natural disasters, including earthquakes, volcanoes, and tsunamis. The AAP Family Readiness Kit offers information on how families can build a kit, make a plan, be informed, and get involved.
- Those affected by a volcano can apply for assistance, find a Disaster Recovery Center, search for Red Cross shelters, check on transportation issues, or monitor power outages.
Volcanoes can expose children to a number of environmental hazards, as well as conditions that can result in psychological stress. As in any disaster or emergency, children should be supervised directly by sight and sound. Children and especially teenagers should be advised to stay away from any volcanic activity, as the threats go beyond lava to include toxic fumes, fires, smoke, explosions, earthquakes and thrown projectiles.
Volcanic eruptions can produce toxic chemicals found in the air of the volcanic fumes. Of special concern is sulfur dioxide gas. This type of situation will be especially challenging for children with asthma or underlying respiratory issues. This is similar to what happens with wildfire smoke. If the chemicals in the air make it not safe to breathe outdoors, public health officials might recommend that people stay indoors (in well-sealed and airconditioned facilities), limit trips outside or brief use of masks and N95 respirators. However, the use of these masks in children is not recommended, as there could be a potential risk of asphyxiation and other poor outcomes, especially in infants/toddlers (see Disposable Respirator Q & A or e-mail DisasterReady for additional information on the use of masks in children). Also see information on protection from breathing ash.
Communities might choose to set-up crisis hotlines to provide locally-tailored information and to better support families.
Typically, authorities will announce when the risk of additional volcanic activity is low, and the air quality is safe. Key requirements for children to return to an area impacted by volcanoes include safe air quality, restored drinking water and sewage removal, safe road conditions, removal of ash and debris and structurally sound homes. Schools, child care facilities and outdoor play areas should be cleaned, cleared of hazards and made ready for use. Persisting hazards should be isolated and made inaccessible to children. Children, and whenever possible, teens, should only be permitted to return after affected areas have been cleaned up. Children should be the last group to return.
- Environmental Management of Pediatric Asthma: Guidelines for Health Care Providers (National Environmental Education Foundation)
- Grand Rounds: Health Impacts of Volcanic Emergencies (PEHSU)
- National Center for Environmental Health Fact Sheets Hawaii (CDC)
- Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Units (PEHSU)
- Promoting Adjustment and Helping Children Cope in a Disaster (AAP)
- Volcanoes (CDC)
American Academy of Pediatrics