Warning against old gas masks containing asbestos

On several occasions, the Human Environment and Transport Inspectorate (ILT) shipping inspectors have encountered the use of ‘vintage’ gas masks with filter canisters containing asbestos on board international ships. 

Asbestos ban

Since 2002, the use of asbestos-containing materials has been prohibited in the international shipping industry. Some gas masks from World War II and the Soviet Cold War era contained chrysotile or crocidolite asbestos in their filters. Despite bans on asbestos across the Netherlands and the European Union, these gas masks are still available for purchase online and at vintage markets.

Vintage gas mask

Outdated gas masks unsuitable as RPE

The ILT has identified instances where shippers in countries outside the EU provide old gas masks containing asbestos as Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE) for checking phosphine levels in fumigated cargo holds of bulk carriers.

As asbestos exposure poses severe health risks, the ILT collaborates with industry associations, the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) and the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to raise awareness about these dangers.

Approved masks

It is crucial to highlight that outdated gas masks are unsafe for use as they might contain asbestos. Also, they do not comply with modern filter classification and marking of cartridges. The filters:

  • must be selected based on the specific toxic compound they are meant to protect against, and
  • must have an expiry date, as they lose effectiveness when saturated with hazardous chemicals. They also degrade over time, even when sealed. 

Proper disposal

Asbestos must be removed in a safe way and cannot be reused or passed on to others. The ILT requires that old gas masks with filter canisters containing asbestos be properly disposed of immediately. The safest way to dispose is to ensure the masks are airtight packed, using a double layer of plastic and clearly labelled as material containing asbestos.

ILT supervision

The ILT’s supervision aims to ensure the proper removal and disposal of asbestos, both on land and at sea during regular Port State Control inspections. The ILT also monitors compliance with the import ban to prevent the entry of new asbestos-containing products into the market.