Last Jan. 12, Sunday, Taal Volcano erupted, spewing steam, smoke and ash into the atmosphere, resulting in an ash fall that covered the provinces of Batangas, Cavite, Laguna and Metro Manila. Several photos of the affected areas were shared on social media, including photos of homes, cars and business establishments covered in ash.
Volcanic ash is not your ordinary ash or house dust. When viewed under a microscope, it contains broken pieces of rock and glass. This is because volcanic ash is lava that froze so rapidly, it became glass, which can be hazardous to one’s health when inhaled or consumed through food and water that are contaminated by it. Inhaling ash can cause lacerations of the inside on the bronchiole, alveoli and capillaries; and silicosis. While the toxic substances in volcanic ash can lead to shortness of breath, excessive coughing, bleeding from the eyes, and bronchitis, ash can also scratch and abrade surfaces when removed by wiping or brushing, and get inside items like appliances and computers among others. So it is important to clear homes and properties from it. If your home is one of those affected by the ash fall, here are some ways to clear it properly:
Take proper precaution. Wear protective gear such as N95 masks and goggles to protect you from hazardous materials. If these masks are still unavailable in medical supply stores and pharmacies, you can also use surgical masks lined with tissues, scooter masks, or a wet cloth. Some publications have also suggested using bras as masks, as these can also help filter out the ash and its toxic substances. Be careful when using ladders as the ash can make the surfaces slippery.
Clean the outside first, before cleaning the inside. By doing this first, you avoid bringing in more dirt, ash and dust inside.
Lightly moisten ash. With a garden hose, dampen — not soak — the volcanic ash, to keep it from being picked up by the wind. This also makes the ash easier to shovel to heavy-duty plastic bags.
Clear out the roof first. The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) advises clearing out the roof of volcanic ash first as the heavy weight may cause it to collapse. According to the International Volcanic Health Hazard Network (IVHHN), most roofs cannot support more than four inches or 10 centimeters of wet ash.
Clean gutters of ash to avoid clogging. IVHHN advises not to wash ash into drains and sewers as it can clog pipes and damage water treatment systems. They also advice not to dump ash on the roadside or in gardens.
Clean inside the house in sections. Start from the top floor and work your way downstairs. By cleaning in sections, you’ll avoid re-cleaning the same room.
Make sure there is proper ventilation. Open doors and windows before cleaning so that you will not inhale the ash and dust.
Vacuum first. When cleaning the inside of your home, the IVHHN recommends vacuuming instead of sweeping dry ash, for a dustless method of cleaning. Follow this with washing the surfaces with water and an effective detergent. Phivolcs recommends using powder detergent. If vacuuming is not an option, wipe things down with a damp rag. Place moistened ash deposits in plastic bags.
Clean electronic equipment. First, turn off your power supply before cleaning any or all electronic equipment. Use a vacuum cleaner if available, or use compressed air to blow off dust. Clean these items and others that may blow air and remobilize ash inside your home. For air-conditioners, refrigerators and the like, check if the filters need to be replaced. Check filters every now and then months after the eruption.
Beat ash-covered clothes or fabrics before wash. Fabrics that have been coated with ash should be taken outside and beaten to remove the ash. Or rinse them under running water.
Pets should be brushed free of ash before being let in. Pets being pets, they need to go outside to do their business. But before letting them in, brush off their fur of ash to prevent it from coming back in. Take note, volcanic ash is also bad for animals and can cause severe health problems.
It is important to always wear a mask and goggles when cleaning to protect you and your family’s health. Knowing what to do in times of natural calamities such as volcanic eruptions is also important. Stay tuned for additional announcements especially if you’re living near the affected area/s. Jot down important numbers and emergency hotline numbers to easily reach authorities. Stay safe, everyone.