Vintage gas masks and asbestos
Concerns have been raised about the sale of World War II gas masks on the internet, as WW II gas masks and World War I “Brodie” helmets may contain asbestos.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has previously advised schools, that it was not appropriate for children or teachers to wear or handle a Second World War gas mask unless it can be clearly demonstrated that the particular mask does not contain asbestos.
Since issuing this advice, HSE has analysed a number of vintage masks for the presence of asbestos. This work has confirmed that no gas masks should be worn or handled by children or teachers.
The analysis showed that the majority of vintage masks did contain asbestos and often the more dangerous crocidolite, or blue, asbestos. Only a minority did not, and it is not possible to say which types or models do, or do not, contain asbestos.
It is also very difficult to decide whether or not a mask contains asbestos from a simple visual examination, and in addition it is likely that some masks will be in very poor condition.
The Imperial War Museums (IWM) have also reviewed the collections selected for their First World War Galleries and they discovered that the majority of the British Army (‘Brodie’) helmets below, issued during the First World War, contain chrysotile (white) asbestos in the helmet liner.
IWM advise that their policy is to assume any mask, whatever the vintage, contains asbestos as well as potentially other toxic or otherwise hazardous materials, and so should not be worn and only handled if clearly certified as safe to do so.
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.
More advice can be found here.