Strong Sulfur Smells Affect St Vincent Villages As La Soufrière Erupts

Plume of steam and volcanic gases emanate from the new La Soufrière volcanic dome. (UWI SRC/Richard Robertson)

Present La Soufrière Alert Level:ORANGEThere is a highly elevated level of seismic and/or fumarolic activity or other unusual activity. An eruption may begin with less than twenty-four hours' notice.

Strong sulfur smells may linger for days to weeks according to the University of the West Indies Seismic Research Center (UWI SRC) and St. Vincent’s National Emergency Management Organization (NEMO).

Depending on the changes in wind direction and the strength of the winds, sulfuric gases emitted by the La Soufrière volcano’s ongoing effusive eruption may continue to affect nearby communities. However, experts anticipate much of the gas concentrations to remain in the crater for now mostly.

According to Professor and Geologist at the UWI SRC, Richard Robertson, the greatest danger of the sulfur gas is at the summit of the volcano itself. He explained that La Soufrière has always emitted sulfur due to an active fumarole within the crater. However, the rate of emission has increased due to fresh magma. “Therefore, the flow of sulfur-smelling gas in the atmosphere has increased, but most of the gas that comes out of the crater is simply water vapor.”

In the early stages of the eruption, the small crater lake that existed was immediately noted by scientists to have evaporated. According to Robertson, water in the crater is being boiled, and steam is being created. “The volcanic gases are sulfur-rich are not so much dangerous because it gets diluted. The concentrations in the atmosphere when it gets to where people are living are really slim.”

Inside the first week of the eruption, residents of the Rosebank community in northwestern St. Vincent reported to local media on the island of the smell.

One woman reported, “the strong scent of the sulfur is becoming Unbearable making you feel nauseated, it’s burning my eyes and makes the throat feel funny.”

However, at present, Robertson reiterates that the smell should not be causing much harm. “The smell is not going to cause you harm. The thing that is going to cause you harm is the chemical composition, and the concentration is too small to cause you harm.”

When asked by UWI SRC’s Education and Outreach Manager, Stacey Edwards should people be worried, he continued, “People should be concerned because it tells you the volcano is still doing something, and we shouldn’t be concerned about the flanks are going to make it or put you in harm’s way of gases in terms of health.”

This same concoction of gases and water vapor is responsible for the burning of vegetation on the slopes of La Soufrière.

Air Quality Monitoring To Occur

Burnt vegetation within the crater of the La Soufrière Volcano, St Vincent as acidic gases affect the area with the growing dome in the background. (UWI SRC/Richard Robertson)
Burnt vegetation within the crater of the La Soufrière Volcano, St Vincent as acidic gases affect the area with the growing dome in the background. (UWI SRC/Richard Robertson)

However, as the volcano continues to erupt, it is worth monitoring. As the new dome fills the crater with new magma, it will push more gases over the crater rim and gases may reach further downslope.

Robertson warns, “The concentrations may get high so those who have asthma or respiratory problems may find some discomfort.”

He said that the UWI SRC has recommended to NEMO to start monitoring the environment to look at the concentrations of gases in the currently occupied areas. Although concentrations are normal at this time, with present monitoring, when levels do rise, NEMO can detect the changes and take appropriate action.

Volcanic Hazard Map for the La Soufrière Volcano, St. Vincent (UWI SRC/NEMO)
Volcanic Hazard Map for the La Soufrière Volcano, St. Vincent (UWI SRC/NEMO)

The National Emergency Management Organisation reminds the public that no evacuation order or notice has been issued. NEMO continues to appeal to the public to desist from visiting the La Soufrière Volcano until the scientists advise that it is safe.

Official information will originate from St. Vincent and the Grenadines National Emergency Management Organization and the University of the West Indies Seismic Research Center.

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