Chile volcano showing less activity

Posted June 19, 2011, at 8:49 p.m.

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — After an “east-west circumnavigation” of the globe, a cloud of volcanic ash returned to its origin country, Chile, and was disrupting flights there on Saturday.

Flights were cancelled in Chile and neighboring Argentina, where the ash has been pouring down for days in Patagonia. Air traffic was suspended in the tourist city of Bariloche.

Thousands of tourists have left the mountain resort of Villa La Angostura, which was covered in15.7 inches of ash, according to media reports.

The ash from the Caulle volcanic cordon in Chile, which has covered large portions of the Argentine Patagonia for many days, is toxic, experts said Friday.

Analysis found that the ash contains titanium dioxide, which may cause cancer, Raul Montenegro, head of Argentina’s Foundation for the Defense of the Environment (FUNAM), told the German Press Agency dpa. It was also found to have crystal silica, also believed to cause cancer, he said.

“This ash is not harmless, so people should reduce to the minimum the chances to breathe and ingest it,” Montenegro said.

The Caulle, across the Andes, erupted on June 4 and covered large portions of the Argentine Patagonian landscape.

As it travelled, the ash cloud disrupted flights in recent days as far away as Buenos Aires, southern Brazil and even Australia and New Zealand.

Montenegro called for a long-term plan to remove the tons of volcanic debris that are covering forests, lakes and pastures, as well as towns.

“We have to assume that even after volcanic activity ceases, the remains of the ash will continue to be inhaled for a long time,” Montenegro warned.

The Chilean government said Sunday thevolcano was becoming less active. That would allow 4,000 people who were evacuated near the volcano to return home.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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