The Ministry of Defence (MOD) has been investigating the incidence of asbestos in Sea King helicopters.
Serving personnel, veterans, former MOD civilian personnel and contractors may have seen media reports about asbestos being found in some sea king helicopters. The MOD has undertaken an investigation and people that may have had an association with the Sea King might find the following information useful in considering the possible risk of exposure:
Asbestos in Sea King
--the Sea King first entered service in 1969 and the final aircraft were retired from the active inventory on 30 September 2018
--historically, asbestos containing material was used where resistance to heat or an insulating property was required. In the Sea King this was principally in gaskets and seals located around the engines, gearboxes, heating and ventilation systems. These areas were exposed to routine maintenance activity.
--following investigation, to the best of our knowledge, Chrysotile (white) asbestos is the only asbestos type that was used
--as a consequence of the Departmental Directive on Asbestos Elimination (c.1999), an asbestos elimination plan for sea king was implemented. By 2006, major components had been replaced and remaining items were assessed as low risk and contained inside components that were not routinely disassembled. These were replaced with asbestos free alternatives when routine maintenance allowed
--earlier this year, a routine maintenance training activity being conducted on a retired Sea King airframe revealed the presence of asbestos within an exhaust panel seal. Subsequent investigation identified that the MOD’s supply chain had not been purged of asbestos components and thus the risk remained that asbestos-containing components could still be fitted to Sea King aircraft. Action has been taken to remove these components from the supply chain.
Asbestos use and health risks
--asbestos is fire resistant and was widely used in the 20th century as an insulating material in boilers, pipework etc and notably in building construction
--asbestos exposure can relate to occupation, but there are many other sources in the environment
--contact with asbestos does not produce acute symptoms but over time, typically many years, a variety of chest conditions may develop, dependent on the type of asbestos, and the level and duration of exposure