British machine gunners wearing gas masks in the Battle of the Somme.
Potential dangers to children of asbestos in First World War gas masks has today been highlighted by North Thanet MP Sir Roger Gale.
He is urging schools to take the utmost care when dealing with the antique masks for illustrative and educational purposes.
His warning comes as Britain prepares for major commemorations of the centenary of the Great War.
MP Jim Sheridan, chairman of the All-Party Group for Occupational Health and Safety, has flagged up concerns that the masks can release asbestos fibres when they are pulled over faces or handles.
Sir Roger said: “ In commemorating the anniversary of the commencement of the First World War we are encouraging schools, colleges and history societies to put together exhibitions of WW1 material. Inevitably, the surviving artefacts will include items such as “tin hats” and, of course, gas masks.
“Nobody wants to deter enthusiasm or to act as a killjoy but we are advised that there are inherent risks in the handling of antiquated technology that, with greater understanding, would not be acceptable today. “Handle with care” or, preferably not at all, would seem to be the order of the day!”
Gas masks use a filter to absorb hazardous chemicals.
Asbestos was used in the filters on masks from both world wars. Blue asbestos is a substance later found to cause potentially fatal pleural and peritoneal mesothelioma in a high proportion of factory workers who were exposed to it.
Modern gas masks do not use asbestos.