Consumers warned against using vintage gas masks

7 October 2003

Consumers have been warned that continuing to use vintage gas masks containing asbestos as breathing apparatus may be dangerous to their health, including a risk of later developing mesothelioma.

"The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has recently completed a product safety survey of vintage gas masks", ACCC Chairman, Mr Graeme Samuel, said today. "The survey found such masks were available despite a permanent ban.

"The permanent ban on the supply of vintage gas masks containing asbestos has been in place since April 1991, after the discovery of asbestos fibres in the composite filters of some World War II masks.

"The masks are generally retailed in army disposal shops and consist of a full-face shield, hose and a detachable metal canister containing the asbestos filter. Some are also traded on a consumer-to-consumer basis, particularly over the Internet.

"The ACCC believes consumers may be using them as a cheap alternative for a variety of purposes, including sandblasting and while using chemical garden sprays.

"Wholesalers and retailers of gas masks have been reminded of the ban but the ACCC wants to ensure collectors and tradespeople are aware of the potential danger of breathing through such masks.

"Anyone who has an old World War II type gas mask should not use it as a breathing apparatus unless they are confident that it is asbestos-free.

"The masks can be appropriately disposed of by obtaining asbestos bags* and putting the mask at a local authority approved transfer station, usually located at a local tip. Consumers should check with their council. Consumers concerned about whether their vintage gas mask contains asbestos could arrange for it to be tested at an appropriate facility, although the cost is high at approximately $150. Consumers may prefer to correctly dispose of the masks and buy conventional equipment for their needs.

"Each mask must be individually tested to determine if asbestos is present as the masks do not contain any clear identifying marks indicating the country and year of manufacture. Consumers who bought vintage gas masks and have concerns about safety should consult the retailer".

S65C(c) of the Trade Practices Act 1974 prohibits a corporation from supplying goods in respect of which there is in force a notice imposing a permanent ban on goods.

"The enforcement of product safety standards and bans is a priority for the ACCC in the interest of consumer safety", Mr Samuel said.

Release number: 
MR 214/03
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