Ubinas Volcano, located 70 kilometers outside of the southern city of Arequipa, has now erupted 10 times since its sudden reactivation one week ago.
Now scientists and inhabitants of the area are concerned about the effects of the ash and gases that the volcano has released into the air. Andina news agency reports that the ash cloud, which has reached two kilometers in height, is made of very fine particles of silica. When ingested, silica can cause serious respiratory and gastrointestinal illnesses.
El Comercio reported earlier in the week that some residents of the nearby town of Querapi (which authorities are working to evacuate) had arrived at a local hospital complaining of vomiting, headaches, and stomach pain. Andina also notes that prolonged exposure to silica can cause dermatitis and eye damage. People living in the small towns surrounding the volcano have been issued disposable masks and goggles to protect sensitive organs from any potential problems caused by the silica ash.
El Comercio reports that villagers are also concerned for the health of their livestock, who are a major source of income for rural families. In the district of Ubinas alone, there are an estimated 40,000 llamas and alpacas. According to El Comercio, up to 15% of these animals could be seriously affected by the silica ash, which has contaminated their grazing areas.
Scientists have determined that the root of the eruptions is a buildup of underground water pressure caused by precipitation seeping into the volcanic crater, which scientists call a phreatic eruption. The volcano had previously been dormant since 2009. Authorities are looking for ways to relocate affected groups. Villagers living near volcano fear for their livestock.