A group of fishermen make repairs to their operations affected by the ash-fall from the eruption of the Taal volcano, in Buso Buso on January 20, 2020. (AFP / Ed Jones)

World Health Organization refutes misleading claim that volcanic ash can kill coronavirus

Copyright © AFP 2017-2023. All rights reserved.

Multiple posts on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube claim ash produced by a volcano eruption in the Philippines in January 2020 can prevent the novel coronavirus, COVID-19. The posts claim the volcano eruption helps to explain why the Philippines is “not that much affected” by COVID-19. The claim is misleading; the World Health Organization (WHO) told AFP there is no evidence that volcanic ash can destroy COVID-19, adding that it poses significant health hazards.

The misleading claim was published in this Facebook post on February 29, 2020.

Below is a screenshot of the misleading post:

Screenshot of Facebook post

The post’s Tagalog-language caption translates to English as: “Do you know why the philippines is not that much affected by the coronavirus. It’s because of the eruption of taal. Volcanic ash can kill virus.”

The Taal volcano erupted on January 12, 2020, prompting the Philippine government to order the evacuation of hundreds of thousands over fears of a subsequent massive blast. The mass evacuation order was lifted two weeks later, after ash and gas emissions steadily shrank, AFP reported here on January 26, 2020.

The novel coronavirus has spread to at least 99 countries and territories and infected 110,000 since emerging in late 2019 in the Chinese city of Wuhan, AFP reported here on March 9, 2020. 

The Philippines health department has said there were 33 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the country as of 4pm on March 10, 2020.

A similar claim about coronavirus cases in the Philippines supposedly being contained by the Taal volcano’s ash has been shared alongside infographics listing its purported “anti-viral” and “disinfectant qualities” here and here on Twitter, as well as here on YouTube. 

The claim is misleading; health experts said there is no scientific evidence for the claim, as they warned against the hazardous properties of volcanic ash.

“There is no evidence that volcanic ash can destroy the new coronavirus,” a representative for the WHO Philippines told AFP in a text message on March 7, 2020. “The purported anti-viral properties of volcanic ash has not been established. [It] is hazardous to health and may result in respiratory issues, eye problems and skin irritation.”

There is no vaccine or anti-viral medicine to date to prevent or treat COVID-19, the official name of the disease caused by the new coronavirus strain, this WHO page states.

The Philippine health department issued a similar warning on the health hazards of volcanic ash after the Taal volcano erupted.

This January 12, 2020 advisory reads: “Conditions which may be experienced after exposure to volcanic ash and gases include nose and throat irritation, coughing, bronchitis-like illness, discomfort while breathing, eye irritation, and minor skin problems.”