“Pure White”: When Asbestos Was Used As Fake Snow
Although labeled as “Pure White” Snow, the highly fibrous material inside this vintage carton is actually beige; reflecting the fact that it is primarily amosite, amphibole asbestos (also known as “brown asbestos”).
Many films shot in the early 20th century, including the likes of The Wizard of Oz, featured their actors being sprinkled with fake snow. Little do viewers realize, this effect was created by showering performers with chrysotile asbestos fibers, small snow like particles that were once used on movie sets, in department store displays, and even in private homes. Everybody wanted to get in on the fake asbestos snow action. And why not? From the mid-1930s to the 1950s, asbestos was seen as a versatile and harmless substance.
To date, it’s difficult to know the hazard that was presented by asbestos-based fake snow products. Most asbestos products involved some quantity of the fiber being used as part of a chemical compound that bound the fibers together, making them difficult to inhale until the material was damaged. But fake snow, often used in displays or in family homes, was simply pure white asbestos fibre piled up in drifts. Anyone who had any contact was inhaling deadly fibers in quantities normally associated with those working in asbestos mines.
Thankfully, you can safely shop for fake snow this Christmas knowing you won’t be exposed to asbestos…but spare a thought for the innocent workers and householders of the past, many of whom are still living with the consequences of the 20th century’s addiction to asbestos.