Urinary concentrations of metals before and after volcanic eruption: a natural experiment surrounding the eruption of Volcán de Fuego, 2018

Document Type


Publication Date



Department of Geological and Mining Engineering and Sciences


Volcanic eruptions increase environmental heavy metal concentrations, yet little research has been performed on their extrapulmonary human health effects. We fortuitously collected biological samples in a cohort of Guatemalan sugarcane cutters in the area surrounding Volcán de Fuego before and after the June 2018 eruption. We sought to determine whether stratovolcanic activity was associated with changes in urinary concentrations of heavy metals in a cohort of sugarcane workers. In this exploratory analysis, we found significant increases in urinary arsenic, (β = 1.46, P < 0.0001), cadmium (β = 1.03, P < 0.0001), and lead (β = 0.87, P = 0.003) in participants with residential proximity to Volcán de Fuego as compared to participants farther away, suggesting that volcanic activity could be associated with acute heavy metal exposures. This natural experiment is, to our knowledge, the first of its kind and suggests a need for more research into heavy metal exposure-related health impacts of volcanic eruptions.

Publication Title

Environmental geochemistry and health