The mutagenic, fibrogenic, and cytotoxic potential of volcanic ash from the eruption of Mount Saint Helens was assessed, together with the effects on immunological, antiviral, and antibacterial defense mechanisms. The mutagenic potential of the ash was tested by a Salmonella reversion assay and an arabinose resistant forward mutation assay. Interferon induction by ultraviolet irradiated influenza virus was determined in monkey kidney cell monolayers treated with the ash. Cytotoxicity was assayed by culturing rat tracheal tissue in the presence of radiolabeled glucosamine and the ash, and counting the filtrate by liquid scintillation. To determine the fibrogenic properties of the ash, its effect on growth of fetal lung fibroblasts was monitored; the ability of the ash to hemolyze sheep red cells was also studied, as was the effect on macrophages. In-vitro and in-vivo pulmonary effects were assayed. The ash extracts were found to be mildly fibrogenic in-vitro and in- vivo, but they were not mutagenic and had no effect on interferon production. There was some indication that the ash impaired antibacterial host defense mechanisms. The authors conclude that volcanic ash is moderately biologically active and cannot be considered inert.
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