30,000 police linked to asbestos
Up to 30,000 police officers might have come into contact with toxic asbestos, the Metropolitan Police confirmed today, after discovering it in the force's former training facilities.
Buildings which housed firearms training for 27 years, between 1980 and 2007, are being examined and police said they would have to contact "a large number of officers".
Asbestos was frequently used as a building material until 2000, when it was discovered the fibres released by it could cause serious and potentially-fatal health problems.
Short-term exposure to asbestos does not pose a serious health risk, but the Met said they will investigate all buildings where firearms training took place, the type of training done and whether asbestos was present.
Around 5,000 deaths a yea r are caused by exposure to asbestos, according to figures from the Health and Safety Executive.
Chief Superintendent Mike Gallagher 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.
"Inquiries have identified a potential issue at some buildings used historically.
"Due to the time period in question and number of possible sites, we need to make contact with a large number of officers. 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 make direct contact with them over the next couple of weeks."
Those who become ill as a result of asbestos will often have worked directly with material containing the substance, one expert said.
Professor John Cherrie, who has worked on several asbestos research projects, said: "Most people are exposed to asbestos at some time during their life. Low levels of asbestos can be present in the environment, particularly in old buildings and industrial sites.
"However, exposure to low levels of asbestos generally don't cause any disease. People who become ill from asbestos are usually those who were exposed to it on a regular basis, most often in a job where they worked directly with asbestos-containing materials."