Asbestos – World War Gas Masks and a School Ban

London - asbestos gas mask
Asbestos containing Gas Mask found in a London attic

Asbestos and schools were once again today in the media today.

The daily mail today reported that teachers have been told to stop using Second World War Gas masks and helmets form the First World War as classroom props because they might contain asbestos.

The Health and Safety Executive has advised schools to destroy or make safe the artefacts following tests to look for asbestos fibres and advice from the Imperial War Museum. Historians and teacher’s groups have said while pupil’s safety is paramount, the artefacts are an important aid for teaching pupils about the Home Front and it would be terrible if those which could be made safe were destroyed.

In a letter to Schools the HSE said the artefacts should be double bagged and destroyed unless a licensed contractor could make them safe. The letter outlined that “schools that have any of these items of war time memorabilia that are suspected to contain asbestos should remove them from use. They should be double bagged in plastic which should be taped shut appropriately labelled and securely stored while arrangements are made for either disposal through your local authority’s licensed disposal site, or made safe by a licensed contractor by for example encapsulation such that they can be safely displayed in an appropriately labelled cabinet.”

The advice comes after the HSE carried out tests on vintage gas masks, the majority of which contained asbestos in the filters, often the more dangerous crocidolite, or blue asbestos. It also received advice from the Imperial War Museum which said their policy was to assume any gas mask contained asbestos and so should not be worn and only handled if certified to be safe. The museum also said that the majority of the British Army “Brodie” helmets issued during the First World War, contained Chrysotile – white asbestos in their liner.

EMS have come across war time gas masks and helmets in the line of their works. The picture above is taken in a basement where the mask was found.


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