Three Decades of UK Police Officers With Possible Asbestos Exposure

Illustration of potential asbestos exposure in a building

An approximated 30,000 Metropolitan Police officers may have been exposed to asbestos in training buildings in London. That’s three decades of officers who resided in the buildings for firearms training from 1980-2007, but Scotland Yard just recently discovered the asbestos.

Although the exposure is believed to be short-term, there are still possible health risks, including mesothelioma cancer and other diseases. If left alone, the toxic material is less hazardous, but if it’s altered or damaged, then it can be problematic as the dust is released into the air and inhaled over time. The long and thin fibers are sharp and become embedded in the linings of the lungs, chest, or stomach causing scarring and inflammation, which can lead to asbestos diseases.

Professor John Cherrie, who is an asbestos expert from Heriot Watt-University at the Institute of Occupational Medicine in Edinburgh, stated the small amounts of asbestos usually contained in old buildings and industrial sites typically do not result in a disease.

“Most people are exposed to asbestos at some time during their life. 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,” said Cherrie.

The chance of developing mesothelioma cancer is in direct proportion to the duration and amount of asbestos exposure that a person sustains. Another consideration is the latency period of mesothelioma cancer. Often, 20-40 years pass before diagnosis.

“Clearly this is not just an issue affecting the Met, with asbestos present in many industrial and residential properties built prior to 2000,” said Mike Gallagher, Chief Superintendent of the Specialist Firearms Command. “However, we are committed to providing a high duty of care to our officers — past and present.”

A process is underway to notify all former and current officers that may have come into contact with the toxic material. A full support package with detailed information, advice, guidance, links, and contacts is being provided to those who have left, retired, or transferred. So far, only the individuals who are currently active in the Met have been informed.

The Health and Safety Executive on the case has been filled in on the buildings in which training took place, the training type, and if asbestos was present. New guidelines have been created to better identify toxic materials at these training sites moving forward.