Few environmental hazards strike more fear in our terrified little hearts than asbestos. Tell someone they have asbestos in their house and you might as well tell them they have a chainsaw wielding serial killer in their house. Actually, given the exorbitant costs involved with removing asbestos from a house, most people would prefer the serial killer.
So when it was revealed in 1993 that an independent contractor hired by the New York City Board of Education to inspect schools for asbestos had failed to perform the inspections properly, nobody was surprised by Mayor David Dinkins decision to not allow kids to return to classes until proper inspections could be performed. Granted, the decision kept over one million kids out of school for two weeks, threw the plans of their working families into chaos, and panicked the shit out of countless parents who thought they had been sending their kids off to get cancer on a daily basis, but it had to be done to keep the kids safe, right?
So what's the problem? For starters, the type of asbestos that was typically found in schools, including those in New York City, was not the monster-under-the-bed type that tends to kill people. No, when you absolutely, positively must kill every motherfucker in the room, crocidolite or amosite is what you need. Chrysotile asbestos, the kind present in the NYC schools, on the other hand, is easily expelled from the lungs and therefore far less dangerous.
The risk of death was in the range of .009 deaths per million. And while you may say that any risk is too much, dammit, you should keep in mind that a child is a thousand times more likely to die playing high school football.
Also, in other schools, botched asbestos removal jobs had actually left the buildings with higher levels of asbestos in the air than if they'd done nothing. But why let that get in the way of a good panic?
In 1993, asbestos in New York schools killed Fewer People Than ...
... were killed in hot air balloon crashes.