Health experts warn of volcano ash fallout

Swedish and Norwegian health authorities and experts have urged caution after volcanic ash blew across the region from Iceland, although the grounding of helicopter ambulance services caused more concern than air quality.

“We have to hope (the ash) stays at a high altitude level so it can wash away if it rains,” Tom Bellander at the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm told news agency TT.

“If it comes down it could be a problem,” he said, pointing to irritation to the eyes, nose and throat, and saying the risk could be deadly for patients with severe respiratory diseases.

But what seemed to concern health authorities in Norway and Sweden the most was that the closure of airspace meant most ambulance flights – used to evacuate sick patients in remote areas – were halted.

Scandinavian Air Ambulance, which operates ambulance helicopters in Lycksele, Östersund, Uppsala, Stockholm and Visby, announced on Friday morning that only Lycksele was back in service.

Norway’s health ministry said its nine ambulance planes and 12 medical helicopters would remain grounded, and that authorities were collaborating with those in Sweden and Finland to find the fastest ground evacuation routes.

“We will do whatever we can to minimize the consequences of the grounding

of ambulance flights,” Norwegian Health Minister Anne-Grete Strøm-Erichsen said in a statement.

In Sweden, the national board of health and welfare said local authorities could decide to use medical helicopters in very grave situations.

“They can decide on a case to case basis,” Klas Öberg of the board’s crisis preparedness unit told TT.

Local authorities in Värmland, in western Sweden, said ambulance planes would be replaced with regular ambulances, while a local hospital spokesman urged those sick with respiratory diseases to stay inside “in the case of an eventual ashfall over the country”.

In Iceland, where the volcanic chaos originated, authorities called on residents living east of the site of the blast to stay inside and to wear a mask if they needed to leave their homes, Sweden’s ambassador to Iceland Anders Ljunggren told Swedish public radio.

Iceland’s second volcano eruption in less than a month began under the Eyjafjallajökull glacier in the south of the country at around 3am on Wednesday, spewing a cloud of ash that prompted the closure of airspace across much of Northern Europe.

Norwegian and Swedish health authorities and experts urged caution Thursday as a volcano ash cloud blew through the region, but said health risks were mostly related to the grounding of ambulance planes.

The Norwegian health minister also said Norway was preparing for possible illness brought on by the ash, but Kjetil Toerseth of the Norwegian institute for air research said health risks were minor.

“What we see now at Norwegian stations is elevated methane and elevated CO2, which can be attributed to this eruption,” he told AFP.

However, when emissions of sulphur dioxide, a gas harmful to plants and trees, eventually reaches the Scandinavian peninsula the levels will be too low to pose a health risk, he said.

“When the ash and SO2 reach the Norwegian coast, I expect the ash will fall down and you will see particles in the air, (which will likely cause) soiling of laundry hanging out or a coating on a freshly-washed car,” he said.

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Swedish rail company SJs site crashes on Christmas tickets release

The booking site of Sweden's state-owned rail company SJ crashed on Tuesday evening after the company released long-awaited tickets for the Christmas period.

Swedish rail company SJs site crashes on Christmas tickets release

The company on Tuesday night released tickets for the period from December 11th to March 12th next year, only to see the site crash under the volume of booking requests. 

“There are enormous amounts of customers who want to buy tickets, even though it’s the middle of the night,” Lina Edström, a press officer for the company said shortly after midnight. “The home page quite simply can’t cope with responding to so many requests at the same time. 

The site started to work again a few hours later, only to crash once again as people woke up and started booking on Wednesday morning. 

“The reports we are getting is that it’s working for some people and not for others. That’s what we’re seeing as Sweden wakes up and more and more people try and get onto the site,” said Jonas Olsson, another press officer at 7.30am. 


The release of Christmas tickets in Sweden has been severely delayed because of late publication of the Swedish Transport Administration train plan for 2023, which coordinates the times for all passenger and goods trains in Sweden. 

The train plan should have been published at the start of August, giving companies 18 weeks to set tickets from December 10th. It was only released on October 19th. The administration said that it has had problems due to change over to a digital system. 

Many customers have been complaining that they have seen prices for Christmas trips double in the time it has taken them to book a ticket. 

Olsson told the TT newswire that SJ’s pricing system is based on the level of demand. 

“I understand the frustration, and we may well look at this going forward,” he said. “But even if many people have ended up in this situation, there are many others who have been able to buy cheaper tickets.”