Harmful substances and acid rain expected in parts of Spain due to La Palma volcano eruption

by Lorraine Williamson
acid rain a possibility

The volcanic eruption of Cumbre Vieja on La Palma emitted between 6,140 and 11,500 tonnes of sulphur dioxide (SO2) into the atmosphere every day, according to measurements by the Canary Islands Volcanological Institute. This raises the possibility of acid rain.

Lava is not the only danger posed by the eruption of the Cumbre Vieja volcano on La Palma, the Spanish meteorological service Aemet is also taking into account the possibility of acid rain on the most mountainous of the Canaries, also a consequence of the volcano’s eruption.  

Aemet spokesman Rubén del Campo said models of the volcano´s spread of pollutants were being linked to meteorological models. This is in order to ‘assess this possibility with greater accuracy’. He added, ‘it is not impossible’ that the acid rain caused by the volcano’s emissions on La Palma could spread. They could reach the north and east of the more mountainous Canary Islands before reaching Andalucia. 

No danger for public health 

In any case, this rainfall would be weak and scattered. Because “we do not expect large amounts of rain in these areas,” Del Campo told Spanish news service EFE. However, there is a small chance the acid rain could reach the aforementioned areas during “Thursday night or Friday.  


The Aemet measured sulphur dioxide on Tuesday at the atmospheric research centre of Izaña, on Tenerife, with peaks of up to 20 parts per billion. That is at an altitude of 2,371 metres up to 400 times above the ‘normal value’ in the area,. Del Campo said in any case that this concentration ‘does not represent a health risk’. 

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Based on simulations of the pollutant dispersion model, it is possible that emissions from the volcano at 3,000 metres may start to move east or northeast during the day and reach the north of Tenerife on Thursday, although most will move to the eastern part of La Palma and the ocean. 

A little lower, at 1,500 metres, the emission trend indicates a movement to the south and southwest to turn southeast on Thursday and reach the islands of El Hierro, La Gomera and Tenerife. No mixture of pollutants was observed at 5,000 metres.  


The European Copernicus system, joint initiative of the European Commission and the European Space Agency that streamlines activities in European Earth observation predicts the arrival of sulphur dioxide on the peninsula on Friday morning, entering from the east and spreading to North Africa and the Mediterranean islands. The substances will enter Spain via the Valencian Community and Murcia. And will then affect other areas of Spain, such as Andalucia and the Balearic Islands. 

Copernicus’ scientists also assure us that the toxic substances pose no health risk to the population. This is because the concentration on arrival is very low. However, the risk of harmful effects La Palma is greater, especially if the lava reaches the sea. At that point, quite a lot of harmful gases, such as sulphur dioxide, will be released. Meteorologists rule out the possibility of acid rain in this area. The prevailing winds in the Canary Islands are the trade winds, which are not conducive to precipitation. 

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