09/22/2021 at 12:34 PM CEST
Sooner or later it will happen. The lava moves inexorably towards the ocean and this poses a significant health hazard to all those who may be affected by the effects of this “impact & rdquor ;.
It is true that for the moment the lava on La Palma has slowed down and only advances at about 20 meters per second, according to experts. But in two or three days it will arrive. And it will be one of the crucial moments of this volcano and its consequences for health.
Because the lava, which is at about 1,100 degrees Celsius, will come into contact with the ocean water, which at that time will be at about 20-21 degrees.
And since seawater is made up of sodium, chloride, magnesium, sulfur, calcium, potassium, bicarbonate, bromine, strontium, boron, and fluorine, the steam that will be produced will not be harmless water vapor.
Huge plumes of smoke will rise over the sea that will be toxic and corrosive to people.
So much so that in the last terrestrial eruption on La Palma, 50 years ago, a person died from inhaling gases a few kilometers from where the lava and the sea had joined.
The direction of the wind will be essential
The dangers that may exist once we get there are plentiful.
And many of them will depend on the direction the wind blows and its strength.
Forecasts for the weekend predict that the wind speed will not exceed 11 kilometers per hour. And it is foreseeable, given the dates in which we are, that as it is the time of trade winds the wind blows towards the sea in the area of ”impact”.
A fact that helps to think that the toxic cloud can move away from the earth, with which the consequences of the gases that it can emit would be less and there would be less danger.
What toxic gases will appear?
We already know that temperature is one of the biggest dangers we face when there is an eruption. But there are a number of invisible and even odorless gases that also put people’s health at risk.
Each volcano is unique. And depending on the type of eruption, the gases it emits also change. But due to the very composition of sea water, the emission of gases is aggravated when the lava reaches the coast.
The instant it comes into contact with water there will be a huge temperature shock that will create giant plumes of steam. An intense fog whose main gas is water vapor, since the sea will evaporate very quickly, but it is not the only one.
In that column of fog there will be toxic gases that will be released in large quantities. And the risk increases with certain weather conditions, which can drag that cloud many kilometers away. So many that it is scheduled to reach the peninsula.
Hydrochloric acid, which can be fatal
Hydrochloric acid is one of the most dangerous gases that will appear at the moment of impact. An acid that in Spain is commonly known by the name of salfumán. It has a very annoying and irritating odor and is particularly harmful to health.
It is a gas that is toxic to all tissues.
Initial symptoms at low concentrations are eye and throat irritation. But if concentrations are high and people are nearby, hydrochloric acid causes respiratory distress, fluid build-up in the lungs, and, if not remedied, can lead to death.
It is another important gas that must be taken into account when the lava comes into contact with the sea.
It is a molecule that has a great capacity to penetrate tissues and is very corrosive.
But be careful, because although the smell of hydrofluoric acid is usually strong, it can reach toxic concentrations in the lungs without us being aware of it.
In addition, it is likely that we do not feel irritation at the moment, because sometimes this acid reacts with the nervous system causing the pain not to appear until hours later.
At low concentrations and for a short time, the greatest health effects from breathing hydrofluoric acid are irritation of the throat, bronchial tubes, and lungs.
But if we stay longer or what we breathe has a higher concentration, the airways are obstructed, difficulty in breathing appears and, in severe cases, the lungs fill with fluid. In more serious cases it can lead to death.
Tiny crystals that can stick into the lungs
There is another danger in the cloud that occurs when lava reaches the sea.
At that moment the lava crystallizes at high speed and there is a danger that it can create tiny crystals that float in the air.
If this occurs, people who are nearby could end up breathing these crystals, reaching the lungs and causing injuries of different severity.
The dangers of the collapse of the «delta»
Another of the great dangers that can appear at that time is the collapse of the «delta».
The delta is the “new” land that is created as lava enters the sea.
But this lava flow may not create an adequate foundation, and there is a danger that it could collapse. And if that happens, it will cause huge volumes of lava to come into contact with the water in an instant. And this would cause the creation of a large acid cloud very quickly, which could also cause explosions.
The collapse of a “delta” can also cause large waves at very high temperatures. Lava hits directly and moves a large amount of water, while heating it, with the damage that both the wave and its temperature could cause.