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Campaigning asbestos lawyer Harminder Bains warns of presence of asbestos fibres in WWII gas masks

Schools have been warned not to allow teachers or pupils to handle WWII gas masks

World War 2 gas masks contain potentially lethal asbestos

23 October 2013

The Joint Union Asbestos Committee has issued a stark warning about the presence of potentially lethal asbestos fibres in WWII gas masks which are often used in school classrooms when the topic of the Second World War is being explored.  In some cases children have been allowed to try on gas masks.

The gas masks are now more than 70 years old and people who try them on could inhale asbestos fibres.  Exposure to asbestos is the only cause of the fatal lung cancer disease mesothelioma, and it is possible to contract mesothelioma from a single asbestos fibre in the lung. There is no safe level to asbestos exposure.  The masks, filters and carrying bags are likely to be contaminated with asbestos and schools have been told not to handle any part of the mask but to contact their local authority for advice on how to dispose of the items safely.

In February 2012 the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Occupational Safety and Health published a report on the presence of asbestos in schools which revealed that more than 75% of the country’s state schools contain asbestos, often in insulating material used to lag school boilers.  The report made a number of recommendations about protecting staff and pupils from asbestos dust and fibres in schools.

In the 1990s Leigh Day partner Richard Meeran acted for a number of families of women who had died from mesothelioma after being exposed to asbestos while assembling gas masks during the Second World War at a Boots factory in Nottingham.  The filters in the masks were impregnated with blue asbestos, the type of asbestos which is especially associated with mesothelioma. Out of a workforce of approximately 1200, 67 contracted mesothelioma and some of them were subsequently found on post mortem to have a billion fibres of asbestos in every gram of lung tissue.

Harminder said:

“It is horrifying to realise that children and teachers could have been exposed to asbestos at school.  Asbestos is a lethal substance and exposure to it can lead to contracting mesothelioma later in life.  We call on all local authorities to ensure that these potentially lethal gas masks are removed from classrooms immediately.”

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