Over 100 residents near Taal fall ill as the volcano emits harmful gas

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 8) — Over 100 residents in Laurel town, Batangas have fallen sick as Taal Volcano emits sulfur dioxide, a hazardous gas, local health officials said on Wednesday.

The Municipal Health Unit of Laurel said the locals live near Taal Lake and have been getting check-ups since Monday, when the smog started to thicken in their area.

Cough and cold, chest pain, and eye irritation were the most common illnesses, authorities reported.

Town nurse Maylene Reyes also said others who have a history of asthma are seeing their condition triggered.

Sulfur dioxide affects the lungs and at high levels may result in burning of the nose and throat, breathing difficulties, and severe airway obstructions, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

"Tinitingnan din po namin kung talagang doon siya related, kung sa smog ba or talagang sa paiba-ibang panahon," Reyes said.

[Translation: We're also looking if the illnesses are related to the smog or the changing weather.]

But while the thick volcanic smog hampered the visibility and affected local residents' health, some fisherfolk still continue to work.

"Hinapo ho ako, asthma," fisher Makenly Mendoza told CNN Philippines. "Hirap talagang huminga, gawa ng amoy ng asupre. Pagka nakaamoy ka, pasok talaga sa baga."

[Translation: I'm having asthma attacks. It's difficult to breathe because of the smell of sulfur dioxide. It really goes to your lungs.]

"Kapag hindi ho tumrabaho ay hindi kakain eh," Mendoza added. "Konting tiis para mabuhay."

[Translation: If we do not work, we cannot bring food to the table. It's a small sacrifice to live.]

The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) said Taal Volcano is continuously releasing sulfur dioxide, but the slow wind movement keeps the smog in surrounding areas of the volcano.

Ma. Antonia Bornas, Phivolcs' Volcano Monitoring and Eruption Prediction Division chief, said stronger winds may bring the volcanic smog to nearby provinces such as Cavite, Laguna, and Metro Manila.

"Yun ang maganda kapag malakas ang hangin, nadi-disperse maigi ang [sulfur dioxide] hindi katulad ng nangyayari today at kahapon na nakahimpil o naiipon lang siya sa mainly sa Taal caldera sa Taal Lake," she added.

[Translation: It will be better if there are stronger winds so that the sulfur dioxide will be dispersed and will not be trapped mainly in the Taal caldera in Taal Lake.]

Phivolcs said it will not yet elevate the alert level for Taal Volcano, which is currently at Level 1 or "low-level unrest" category, as there are no other indicators aside from the smog.

Authorities have suspended classes in the towns of Agoncillo, Laurel, and Talisay due to the smog.

Local disaster management officials are also reminding residents near the lake to wear face masks and remain in their homes as much as possible.

CNN Philippines senior correspondent Gerg Cahiles contributed reporting from Batangas.