Abestos Snow – The Most Dangerous Fake Snow in History

Nowadays, most people would rather die than go anywhere near anything containing asbestos, but there was once a time when people literally sprinkled themselves with fake snow containing the proven carcinogenic.

Up to the late 1920s, cotton was the main ingredient used for fake snow on Hollywood film sets and in people’s households, but in 1928 a firefighter raised questions about the safety of cotton fake snow, noting that it was a fire hazard, and proposing the used of asbestos as a safer alternative. Obviously, this was long before we realized that asbestos was a known risk factor for an aggressive form of cancer known as mesothelioma, but still, the fact that people used asbestos-containing holiday decorations for decades is shocking.

Photo: BBC caption

Sold under brands like “Pure White” and “Snow Drift”, asbestos-containing fake snow was not only fire-resistant, but it looked so much more realistic than cotton, salt, flour and the other materials used until 1928. The innovative decoration caught on fast, and before long, it was being used routinely in Hollywood, with the most famous example being “The Wizard of Oz” scene where snow falls on Dorothy and her friends, waking them up from a spell cast by the Wicked Witch of the West. That snow was asbestos-rich snow.


Asbestos stopped being used to make fake snow and snowy winter decorations in the early 1940s, as important quantities of it were used during World War 2 to fireproof Navy ships, and by 1950, a sprayable foam, with ingredients that consisted of foamite, water, sugar and soap, was being used instead. Still, experts warn that vintage decorations that have a “frosted” look probably contain asbestos.


“Asbestos was once marketed as artificial snow and sprinkled on trees and wreaths and ornaments. Although those products have not been produced for many years, the oldest decorations that were passed down from one generation to the next may still have small amounts of asbestos,” Asbestos.com notes.


Asbestos-containing artificial snow first drew attention around 2009, when Tony Rich, an industrial hygienist and anti-asbestos activist posted photos of the vintage product on photo-sharing platform Flickr, under the monicker Asbestorama.


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