September 30, 2021

One of the lead stories on last nights national news concerned the toxic fumes that have begun to rise as lava from a volcano on the island of La Palma contacted the Atlantic Ocean.  The lava reached the ocean on Tuesday, raising concerns about the release of toxic gas as the hot rock reacted with the water.  It has been estimated by the EU’s Copernicus service that the magma has covered 267 hectares (2.7 sq km) on its way to the bay.  Clouds of white steam were seen rising from the contact area near Playa Nueva.  The steam carried a mix of sulfur in the lava with the ocean water to create sulfuric acid.  Residents were advised to seal their windows and doors and not go outside.  They might be better advised to leave the island and its toxic mist until the crisis is over.

The initial lead on the volcano was the “miracle house” that managed to survive the initial volcanic eruption.  The property escaped the molten rock flowing from the Cumbre Vieja volcano last Thursday and videos were posted on social media showing the little home standing unscathed on a patch of land, surrounded by a toxic, scorched earth.  The house was owned by a retired Danish couple, Inge Bergedorf and Ranier Cocq.  They used the house as a winter retreat, arriving in October or November to collect the grapes from the vines grown there.  The initial flow had taken the vines but miraculously left the house.  They owner said, “now there is nothing left.  It first swallows the vines.  Now it has also devoured our home.”  For many, this would be a toxic blow.

The lava has flattened hundreds of homes in the region since the volcano erupted on September 19, and more than 6,000 people have been forced to flee.  The Spanish government has since declared the island of La Palma (Canary Islands off north-west Africa) a disaster zone and pledged financial support for all those affected by the volcano.  The president of the Canary Islands, Ángel Víctor Torres, said that an estimated £346 million (US $401.7) of damage had been caused by the eruption and described the people of La Palma as “cowering in fear with a tremendous sense of desolation.”  Those who were not burned out by the lava now face the toxic acid mist.  Apparently, most of the residents are foreigners from central Europe.

Thoughts:  While the sulfuric acid plaguing the residents of La Palma is naturally occurring, I found a similar toxic man-made occurrence when I researched the lead smelters in the Salt Lake Valley at the turn of the 20th century.  While lead was toxic enough, the ore held other elements like mercury, arsenic, and sulfur which all escaped up the smokestack during the smelting process.  The Salt Lake Tribune reported when the wind was right and rain fell, it created a death strip 3 miles (4.5 kilometers) wide and 15 miles (22.5 kilometers) long.  The sulfuric acid that fell with the rain killed both crops and animals who were unlucky enough to be in its path.  The solution was to build taller smokestacks to carry the acid further from the population center.   It still fell somewhere.  We need to protect the planet from ourselves.  Follow the science.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

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