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As many as 30,000 police officers may have been exposed to deadly asbestos

01 June 2015

It has emerged that, over the past 30 years, every armed police officer to have served in London may have come into contact with asbestos.

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Scotland Yard has stated that it has “recently become aware” that buildings used for firearms training between 1970 and 2007 possibly contained asbestos.

Health Risks

Although seemingly minimal in the short term, the long term health risks of being exposed to, or coming into contact with, asbestos dust and fibres are substantial.

Asbestos-related diseases such as mesothelioma and asbestos-related lung cancer are fatal. Asbestosis and pleural thickening, among other asbestos related diseases, are life altering and can significantly affect your quality of life.

Symptoms for asbestos-related diseases don’t usually surface for 10-50 years, so you may not even realise you have them until it is too late. If you know you have been in contact with asbestos dust and fibres and believe your health is starting to deteriorate, such as shortness of breath, chest pains and persistent coughing, then don’t hesitate to see your GP and contact The National Asbestos Helpline.

Not just affecting the Metropolitan

Chief Superintendent Mike Gallagher, from the Specialist Firearms Command, said: “Clearly this is not just an issue affecting the Met., with asbestos present in many industrial and residential properties built prior to 2000.

“However, we are committed to providing a high duty of care to our officers – past and present.

“As such, we are offering a full support package which provides detailed information, advice, guidance, links and contacts.”

A spokesperson for the Metropolitan Police has said that all former and current firearms officers are being contacted as a precaution.

Chief Superintendent Gallagher did not give an exact figure for the officers being contacted, but has described it as being a “large number” of officers. He said: “This will include those who have left, retired, or transferred; so clearly this is a process which will take some time. Today we have advised those currently working within the organisation.

“I can reassure any former officers who may have concerns that we have made detailed inquiries to identify all those individuals potentially affected, and will be making direct contact with them over the next couple of weeks.”

Asbestos experts

The Health and Safety Executive have been notified by the force, while the Specialist Firearms Command attempts to identify all buildings where firearm training took place, the type of training and whether asbestos was present.

An asbestos expert from Heriot Watt-University and at the Institute of Occupational Medicine in Edinburgh is supporting the investigation.

The expert has said that people who become ill from exposure to asbestos dust and fibres are usually those who are exposed to it on a regular basis, most often in a job where people worked directly with asbestos containing materials.

Although people who work directly with asbestos are more likely to develop an asbestos related disease such as mesothelioma or pleural thickening, there is no actual minimum exposure limit to asbestos dust and fibres for a person to develop an asbestos related disease. This means that exposure to as little as one asbestos fibre has the potential to cause an asbestos related disease.

If left undisturbed, asbestos should pose no health problems or risks, but it is advised that you contact the Health and Safety Executive if you are concerned. If material containing asbestos is chipped or broken, or in this case presumably shot, it can release a fine dust that enters the lungs and may damage them over time.

Safety guidance

Scotland Yard said it has “robust protocols” for training sites and has drawn up new health and safety guidance with a questionnaire to identify hazardous materials which may be in buildings, such as asbestos.

This should hopefully give officers knowledge of potential deadly substances in their place of work, and give advice if they come into contact with asbestos.

If you have any queries or are suffering from an asbestos related disease due to an exposure to asbestos dust and fibres at work, please call The National Asbestos Helpline and we’ll happily answer any of your questions and give you the support you need.

Further reading

What is asbestos?

What is mesothelioma?

What is pleural thickening?


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