Asbestos Exposure at Old School Becomes Parents’ Worst Nightmare

Chalk drawings on a sidewalk

Parents in the Niagara Falls, New York area have become increasingly worried after their children were directly exposed to sizable quantities of asbestos near a former junior high school.

The children mistakenly thought the dangerous substance was chalk.

A known carcinogen, asbestos is a toxic yet naturally forming mineral that was commonly used in building materials because of its industrial properties. Schools are a common location where asbestos was used. Exposure to it has been linked to the development of multiple cancers, like mesothelioma and lung cancer.

Tammy Shermer is a parent of one of the children who directly interacted with the chalk-like asbestos. Understandably, she is angry, worried and concerned.

“I thought it was actually chalk. My daughter said it was chalk, so I just thought some kids brought chalk and they were having fun playing sidewalk chalk.”

At this point, parents like Shermer are looking for answers about how this happened and what is being done to protect local residents and their children.

What Caused the Exposure?

School officials blame vandalism as the initial cause of exposure. Vandals stole hot water pipes from the old school. As they did so, asbestos material was left all of over the ground.

Asbestos is used in thousands of products, including pipes, tiles, flooring, heating units and countless others. Former South Junior High School had such asbestos-containing pipes that were damaged through the criminal acts.

Local children discovered the toxic material, resembling chalk, and used it to decorate the sidewalk.

Superintendent of the Niagara Falls school district, Cynthia Bianco, appears to be taking the matter very seriously and has already taken action.

“We’re taking all the appropriate necessary steps to make sure it is cleaned up and becomes safe again.”

An abatement company was hired to clear the area of asbestos and the cleanup was listed as complete by Saturday, March 24.

Potential Long-term Danger

Parents continue to express concerns as they learn more about the hazards associated with asbestos exposure.

Asbestos-related diseases are known for a latent onset. For example, mesothelioma, a rare cancer that is primarily caused by asbestos exposure, may not be developed and detected between 20 to 50 years.

These toxic fibers, once inhaled, get lodged in the body in areas like the lining of the lungs. Gradually, these fibers scar the organs because they are not easily removed from the body.

Over decades, the scarring causes the development of a number of respiratory diseases. Unfortunately, many of these diseases don’t have cures and treatment options are limited. This prognosis often explains why prevention and immediate action at the time of exposure is needed.

Heather Burris, another parent of a Niagara Falls child, expressed panic for her children’s safety.

“I am very concerned. This could be something that my asthmatic children could wind up having cancer someday.”

Experts cite that interaction with asbestos once or twice will not likely cause damage to the health of children or adults, because the exposure would have to be significantly high. The exposure that occurred to these children would not be considered a high-level exposure.

“With any exposure to a toxic substance, the more substance you are exposed to, the higher the probability of getting a given effect,” said Dr. Paul Kostinyak, Director of Toxicology Research at the University of Buffalo.

Parents were advised to contact the State Health Department and medical professionals to receive more accurate recommendations related to their children’s exposure.


Mark Hall joined the Mesothelioma Center as a writer in 2011. Prior to joining the content team, Mark graduated from the University of Florida and then spent several years writing about business, entrepreneurship and technology for various online publications.

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