Evaluation of physical health effects due to volcanic hazards: crystalline silica in Mount St. Helens volcanic ash

Am J Public Health. 1986 Mar;76(3 Suppl):53-8. doi: 10.2105/ajph.76.suppl.53.


This investigation has shown that crystalline silica has been identified as being present in the Mount St. Helens volcanic ash at levels of 3 to 7 per cent by weight. This identification has been established using X-ray powder diffraction, infrared spectrophotometry, visible spectrophotometry, electron microscopy, and Laser Raman spectrophotometry. Quantitative analysis by IR, XRD, and visible spectrophotometry requires a preliminary phosphoric acid digestion of the ash sample to remove the plagioclase silicate material which interferes with the determination by these methods. Electron microscopic analysis as well as Laser Raman spectrophotometric analysis of the untreated ash confirms the presence of silica and at levels found by the XRD and IR analysis of the treated samples. An interlaboratory study of volcanic ash samples by 15 laboratories confirms the presence and levels of crystalline silica. Although several problems with applying the digestion procedure were observed in this hastily organized supply, all laboratories employing the digestion procedure reported the presence of crystalline silica. These results unequivocally put to rest the question of the presence of silica in the volcanic ash from eruptions of Mount St. Helens in 1980.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Disasters*
  • Dust
  • Evaluation Studies as Topic
  • Humans
  • Microscopy, Electron
  • Silicon Dioxide / analysis*
  • Spectrophotometry
  • Spectrophotometry, Infrared
  • Spectrum Analysis, Raman
  • Washington
  • X-Ray Diffraction


  • Dust
  • Silicon Dioxide