The Human Environment and Transport Inspectorate (ILT) recently found gas masks with filters containing asbestos on board a bulk carrier during a regular Port State Control inspection.
he crew used these masks as RPE (respiratory protective equipment) when checking phosphine levels in the fumigated cargo holds. As the inspector suspected that they were Soviet filter canisters containing asbestos, a sample was taken with the captain’s permission. Laboratory tests showed that they were indeed filters containing asbestos.
On online market places and vintage markets, gas masks including filter canisters remain a popular product among consumers. Back in 2021, the inspectorate already warned consumers about internet adverts offering army cases containing these gas masks and filter canisters for sale.
The ILT now finds these gas masks with filter canisters containing asbestos are being used in maritime shipping. In the past year and a half, there have been 3 instances where shipping inspectors on board international ships accidentally came across these filter canisters containing asbestos. As exposure to asbestos fibres poses serious health risks, the ILT engages with industry associations, the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) and the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to highlight the dangers.
Serious health risks
Asbestos is a natural mineral composed of small fibres. It is highly wear-resistant and resistant to moisture and chemicals. It also insulates (heat and electricity) and is heat-resistant and fire-resistant. For these properties, asbestos was widely used in construction until 1994, but also in objects such as consumer goods. Inhalation of asbestos fibres can cause lung cancer, asbestos cancer (mesothelioma) and asbestosis.
The ILT recommends that these masks with filter canisters be properly disposed of immediately, airtight packed, in a double layer of plastic and labeled as material containing asbestos.
Asbestos has been banned since 1 July 1993. Companies are no longer allowed to use asbestos because of the risk to public health. They are also no longer allowed to sell, import, give away, reuse or process asbestos or products containing asbestos. In the European Union, an asbestos ban has been in place since 2005. In the international shipping industry, such asbestos-containing materials have been banned since 2002.
The supervision by the ILT is aimed at ensuring that parties remove and dispose of asbestos, which was widely used in the past. Asbestos must be removed in a safe way and cannot be reused or passed on to others.
To prevent new products containing asbestos from entering the market, the ILT also monitors compliance to the import ban. Uncontrolled imports of untested products from countries not having a general ban on asbestos pose a health risk to European consumers.
In a previous article, SAFETY4SEA highlighted that asbestos exposure can occur from using certain materials and tools in the workplace and shipyards are among these workplaces with the highest risks of asbestos exposure.