Health impacts

General context

Nyiragongo and Nyamulagira both emit gas plumes rich in sulfur and carbon dioxide during eruptive activity. On Nyiragongo, such gas plume is continuously released from the active lava lake located inside its main crater. Every 2 to 4 years, Nyamulagira erupts and release a huge ash and gas plume. According to Bluth and Carn (2008), Nyamulagira is the world’s largest source of volcanogenic SO2 released to the atmosphere.

Impact of the acidic rainfalls on the roofs of the Primary school in Sake – (c) B. Smets, RMCA – 2007

As it is observed in the field, such gas release affects the surrounding environment. The resulting acidic rainfalls affect vegetation, crops, human infrastructures as well as water quality. As we also expect an impact of the volcanic plume on human health, investigations to detect a link between SO2 and health data are currently performed at the Royal Museum for Central Africa.

GORISK objectives

This study should enable us to determine whether the volcanic plume has an impact on the health of the population, and if relevant, to assess the extent of this impact and to locate the areas that are most affected. That assessment will evaluate the relevance of appropriate sanitation measures to be taken (water treatment, early warning system, etc.).

Nyiragongo gas plume – (c) F. Kervyn, RMCA – 2007


The CEMUBAC NGO, one of the partners in the GORISK project, is supporting the health sector in the DRC through the setting up of a Health Information System (HIS) which relies on the 10-years data collected in health centers of the targeted region. The scientific studies carried out in other regions of the world suggest that certain pathologies could be linked to a high concentration of SO2 in the atmosphere: there are acute respiratory infections (ARI), conjunctivitis and skin diseases. Moreover, the Michigan Technological University (MTU – USA) gathers satellite data of SO2 concentration in the atmosphere. These remote sensing data provide the spatial distribution of the plume. Currently these data are statistically compared with the health data, in order to highlight a possible relationship between these two parameters. Ground measurements with a DOAS system are also performed.

Map of SO2 concentrations from the Nyiragongo gas plume for the period 2004-2007 – (c) GORISK, 2011



Bluth G.J.S., Carn S.A. (2008) – Exceptional sulphur degassing from Nyamuragira volcano, 1979-2005. Int. J. Remote Sensing 29 (22), 6667-6685.