Chronic exposure to volcanic environments and chronic bronchitis incidence in the Azores, Portugal

Environ Res. 2007 Mar;103(3):419-23. doi: 10.1016/j.envres.2006.06.016. Epub 2006 Aug 17.


The village of Furnas, like other active volcanic areas in the world, exhibits high levels of hazardous gases. We aimed to investigate the existence of a possible association between chronic exposure to volcanic sulfur gases and chronic bronchitis. To investigate this, we used two populations, one exposed to active manifestations of volcanism (Furnas) and another from an area where no volcanic activity took place for over three million years (Santa Maria), both in the Azores. We used data on the incidence of chronic bronchitis among both populations (1991-2001), obtained from the records of each local health center, and population denominators from censuses carried out in 1991 and 2001, using five age-groups. We also estimated relative risks and mean annual age-standardized rates of chronic bronchitis incidence. Incidence rates were extremely higher in the volcanically active area for both sexes, and especially in the youngest groups. Accordingly, the risk of chronic bronchitis for the people living in the volcanically active area was extremely higher (males RR=3.99; females RR=10.74) when compared to those living in the volcanically inactive area. Comparison of chronic bronchitis incidence rates between both populations suggests an association between this disease and the chronic exposure to the volcanically active environment, with all its hazardous gases like hydrogen sulfide and sulfur dioxide. These findings may help health officials to better advice people inhabiting volcanic areas, or others with high levels of sulfur gases, on how to prevent and minimize the risks of chronic bronchitis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Air Pollutants / analysis*
  • Bronchitis, Chronic / epidemiology*
  • Bronchitis, Chronic / etiology
  • Environmental Exposure / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Portugal / epidemiology
  • Risk Factors
  • Sex Factors
  • Volcanic Eruptions*


  • Air Pollutants