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For the record

Are wartime helmets too dangerous for the classroom? Image

Are wartime helmets too dangerous for the classroom?

An article in The Times (£) on 13th May 2014 reported new advice from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) on Second World War helmets and gas masks. The HSE said “that it is ‘not appropriate for children or teachers’ to wear or handle them because they may contain small traces of asbestos” and “it was impossible to tell which of the different models of mask did not contain asbestos.”

John Hoskins, toxicologist, responds to these claims:

“It is well documented that only the military type (where the mouthpiece is separate from a canister which clips to the waist) contained blue asbestos. The general public version didn’t: their masks sometimes contained the comparatively harmless white asbestos but no blue. Those most heavily exposed were the women who assembled the gas masks in factories, not those who wore them. The cohorts from the factories were monitored closely after the war for the rest of their lives: those who worked on the military gas masks with blue crocidolite suffered asbestos-related diseases while the cohorts who worked with white chrysotile were asbestos disease-free.”

Document type: For The Record

Published: 13 May 2014


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