Parents warned of 'dusting' solvent abuse

B.C. school board, RCMP issue alert after 13-year-old girls caught inhaling computer dusting products at school. Dusting is an extremely dangerous way of getting high.

Parents are being warned that some young teens may be inhaling computer duster products, an extremely dangerous method of getting high.

"Dusting" involves inhaling compressed air from aerosol cans, specifically computer dusting products.

The warning comes after four 13-year-old girls were caught inhaling the contents of a can of computer duster in a junior high washroom.

"It was surprising and very disconcerting because from the information we were able to gather, it can be fatal on the first or 10th time you use it," said Doug Strachan, a spokesperson for the Surrey School Board in B.C.

Inhaling the chemicals can give a mild high for a few minutes. In other cases, it can leave permanent brain damage or kill.

Teens inhaling the gases is a scourge of the industry, aerosol manufacturer Falcon told CBC News. The company's website and products are covered in warnings and information on the dangers of inhalant abuse.

No one in Canada is collecting information on dusting, said researcher Colleen Dell of the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse in Ottawa.

No one knows how widespread the problem may be, or even if a child has died of it in Canada. Parents don't talk to their teens about dusting, and teens assume the practice is safe.

"I mean, the understanding amongst the kids is that there was no gas involved, or no volatile substances involved in what they're using. They believe that they were intaking air," said Dell. "That was completely false."

In Britain and the U.S., organizations are tracking aerosol abuse. It's estimated up to 150 American teens and young adults die each year from the practice.

In one case, a 14-year-old boy in the U.S. was found dead in his bed with a can of duster beside him. His father was a police sergeant, his mother a nurse, the family pet a drug-sniffing dog. His parents never thought there would be drugs in the house.

Inhaling computer duster tends to happen more often among urban, middle-class kids who aren't necessarily using other drugs, researchers said.

The Surrey School Board and Surrey RCMP were quick to warn parents, despite concerns that publicizing the practice might encourage others to try it.

"Certainly we felt, on balance we thought it was proper to get the information out there," said Strachan.