Keeping safe from volcanic ash

Volcanic ash can cause eye, skin and breathing problems, as well as property damage, both near to the eruption and hundreds of kilometres away.

Whakaari / White Island eruption advice

Advice for everyone on the island and in the immediate vicinity of the 9 December 2019 Whakaari / White Island eruption.

The Whakaari/ White Island eruption saw an ash plume form. Inside the plume was a mix of rocks, water, ash, chemicals, and gases.

Advice from the Ministry of Health and the National Poisons Centre is:

  • everyone on the island and in the vicinity of the 9 December eruption of Whakaari/White Island should monitor their health;
  • if you experience eye irritation or pain, skin rashes or pain, cough, throat/nasal irritation, breathing difficulty or other respiratory symptoms you should seek medical attention – contact your doctor or Healthline (0800 611 116);
  • let them know of your involvement in the Whakaari/White Island event.

Support with distress

The Whakaari/White Island event is distressing for all those involved. If you, or someone you know, needs mental wellbeing support or advice, then call or text 1737 free, from anywhere, anytime to talk it through. 

General information about volcanic ash

If you’re worried about volcanic ash, listen to your local radio stations for civil defence advice and follow instructions.

Before ash arrives

  • Check on friends and neighbours who may require special assistance.
  • Know where your first aid kit is.
  • Have cover-up clothing and goggles handy.

Protect machinery and electronics

  • Put all machinery inside a garage or shed, or cover with large tarpaulins to protect them from volcanic ash.
  • Protect sensitive electronics and do not uncover until the environment is totally ash-free.

Protect animals and livestock

  • Bring animals and livestock into closed shelters to protect them from volcanic ash. Ensure fodder is available.
  • Keep household animals indoors where possible, wash away ash on their paws or skin to keep them from swallowing the ash, and provide clean drinking-water.

Safe water supply

  • Save water in the bath or other containers in case the water supply becomes polluted or is cut off.
  • Disconnect drainpipes/downspouts from gutters to stop drains clogging.
  • If you use a rainwater collection system for your water supply, disconnect the tank from the downpipes to prevent ash washing into the tank.

During and after ashfall

Stay indoors as much as possible

  • Stay indoors or in a car as much as possible (especially if you have breathing problems like asthma or bronchitis).
  • If you have to go outside:
    • wear goggles to protect your eyes; if you usually wear contacts, wear glasses instead, as ash can get stuck in your contacts and scratch your eyes
    • protect skin with suitable clothing (eg, headgear, footwear, gloves)
    • breathe through a fine-particled mask (or a damp cloth if you don’t have a mask).
  • Avoid driving in heavy ashfall as it stirs up ash that can clog engines and cause serious abrasion damage to your vehicle.
  • Stay indoors if ash is so thick that it’s hard to see. A hand torch is only effective at very close range.

Safe food and water

  • Wash all fruit and vegetables carefully. Keep all food clean and protected. Ash should not be ingested.
  • If you have questions or concerns about your water supply, or other health concerns, contact your local public health unit at your district health board.

Keep ash out the house

  • Keep as much ash out of the house as possible. Close all windows and doors properly and cover cracks under doors with damp towels.
  • Leave outdoor clothing outside.

Protect property and electronics

  • Do not use exhaust fans or clothes dryers.
  • If there is a lot of ash in the water supply, do not use your dishwasher or washing machine.
  • Do not uncover the heat pump external unit or use the heat pump until after the ash fall.
  • When it is safe to go outside, keep your gutters and roof clear of ash – heavy ash deposits can block drains or even collapse your roof.

Cleaning up

  • Use a mask or a damp cloth and eye protection when cleaning up. Moisten the ash with a sprinkler before cleaning.
  • Vacuum ash up. Do not wipe as it will scratch surfaces.
  • Wash off any ash that gets onto skin.
  • Use detergent to wash work clothes.
  • Only reconnect your roof tank to the downpipe once rain has washed all ash from the roof or it has been cleaned. Ash will usually make drinking-water unpalatable (sour, metallic or bitter-tasting) before it presents a health risk. In this event roof tank water should be replaced.

If there’s damage

  • Look for and report broken utility lines to appropriate authorities.
  • If your property is damaged, take notes and photographs for insurance purposes. If you rent your property, contact your landlord and your contents insurance company as soon as possible.
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