Concerns have been raised about the sale of World War II gas masks on the internet, as they may contain asbestos, a substance that is harmful to health. Exposure to asbestos can cause diseases such as mesothelioma, lung cancer and asbestosis.
Although the risk of developing these diseases is very low (most disease is the result of past heavier and repeated exposure to asbestos, such as in industrial settings), everyone’s exposure to asbestos should be minimised at all times.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has previously advised schools, for example, that all vintage gas masks should be assumed to contain asbestos (unless there is clear evidence that they do not), and they should not be worn or handled. This advice also applies to World War I ‘Brodie’ helmets.
The supply of items containing asbestos is illegal. Individuals concerned about the sale of items that may contain asbestos, including from online sales, should contact their local authority trading standards team.
Further guidance information on asbestos, as well as HSE advice to education departments, can be found on the HPS website.