Keeping safe from volcanic ash

Volcanic ash and gas can cause eye, skin and breathing problems, both near to the eruption site, and hundreds of kilometres away.

If there is an eruption

Before ash arrives

Protect yourself and others 

  • Check on friends and neighbours who may need special assistance. 
  • Know where your first aid kit is. 
  • Have cover-up clothing and goggles handy. 

Protect machinery and electronics

  • Put all machinery inside a garage or shed, or cover with large tarpaulins to protect them from volcanic ash. 
  • Protect sensitive electronics and do not uncover until the environment is totally ash-free. 

Protect animals and livestock 

  • Bring animals and livestock into closed shelters to protect them from volcanic ash. Make sure fodder is available. 
  • Keep household animals indoors where possible. Wash away ash on their paws or skin to keep them from swallowing the ash. Provide clean drinking water.

Protect your water supply 

  • Save water in the bath or other containers, in case the water supply becomes polluted or is cut off. 
  • Disconnect drainpipes and downspouts from gutters to stop drains clogging.
  • If you use a rainwater collection system, disconnect the tank from the downpipes to prevent ash washing into the tank.

During and after ash fall

Stay indoors as much as possible

  • Stay indoors, or in a car, as much as possible, especially if you have breathing problems like asthma or bronchitis. 
  • Avoid driving in heavy ashfall. It stirs up ash that can clog engines and cause serious abrasion damage to your vehicle. 
  • Stay indoors if ash is so thick that it is hard to see. A hand torch is only effective at very close range.

If you have to go outside

  • Wear goggles to protect your eyes. If you usually wear contacts, wear glasses instead — ash can get stuck in your contacts and scratch your eyes. 
  • Protect skin with suitable clothing, for example headgear, footwear, gloves. 
  • Breathe through a fine-particled mask, or a damp cloth if you do not have a mask. 

Safe food and water

  • Wash all fruit and vegetables carefully. Keep all food clean and protected. Ash should not be eaten or swallowed (ingested). 
  • If you have questions or concerns about your water supply, or other health concerns, contact your local public health unit.

Keep ash out of the house

  • Keep as much ash as possible out of the house. Close all windows and doors properly, and cover cracks under doors with damp towels. 
  • Leave outdoor clothing outside.

Protect property and electronics

  • Do not use exhaust fans or clothes dryers. 
  • If there is a lot of ash in the water supply, do not use your dishwasher or washing machine. 
  • Do not uncover the heat pump external unit, or use the heat pump until after the ash fall. 
  • When it is safe to go outside, keep your gutters and roof clear of ash. Heavy ash deposits can block drains or collapse your roof. 

Cleaning up 

  • Use a mask or damp cloth and eye protection when cleaning up. 
  • Moisten ash with a sprinkler before cleaning up. 
  • Vacuum ash up. Do not wipe as it will scratch surfaces.
  • Was off any ash that gets onto skin. 
  • Use detergent to wash work clothes. 
  • Only reconnect you roof tank to the downpipe once rain has washed all ash from the roof, or it has been cleaned. Ash will usually make drinking water sour, metallic or bitter tasting before it presents a health risk. If this happens, roof tank water should be replaced.

If there is any damage

Look for broken utility lines and report to the appropriate authorities. 

If your property is damaged, take notes and photographs for your insurance. If you rent your property, contact your landlord and your contents insurance company as soon as possible.

GNS Science

Information about volcanoes in Aotearoa New Zealand.

International Volcanic Health Hazard Network

An umbrella organisation for research and information on volcanic health hazards.


The NZ Volcanic Alert Level system is based on 6 levels and is intended to describe the current status of each active volcano.

Get Ready

Volcanic activity can include ashfall, falling rocks, hot gases and volcanic rock, lava flows, and massive mudflows. Find out what to do before, during and after volcanic activity.

National Emergency Management Agency

The National Emergency Management Agency provides leadership in reducing risk, being ready for, responding to and recovering from emergencies.

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