As we have discussed in previous blog posts, asbestos is a versatile substance. Although it is typically only thought of being used in building materials, its usage eventually branched out to Hollywood. Due to the texture and pale color of chrysotile, a common form of asbestos, it was sometimes used as a snow substitute in films.
In the critically acclaimed film the Wizard of Oz, chrysotile asbestos was used during the poppy field scene when Dorothy and her companions are fleeing from the Wicked Witch of the East. There, they have a spell placed on them, causing the group to become incapacitated. They later awaken in the field covered in snow. Behind the scenes, the “snow” used was actually industrial-grade chrysotile asbestos. Even the scarecrow’s costume and the wicked witch’s broom were made of asbestos to protect the actors during scenes involving flames.
In the film White Christmas, actor and singer Bing Crosby sings the title song of the film while snow falls on him. In reality, a stagehand was dumping chrysotile asbestos down to simulate snow. While the film “It’s a Wonderful Life” is widely claimed to have used asbestos in their “snow”, it was actually a substance called foamite commonly used in fire extinguishers. However, it is reported that asbestos may have been used on the set.
Even outside of film studios, asbestos “snow” was commercially available for Christmas decorations. Previously cotton was used on ornaments and Christmas trees, however asbestos was marketed as “safer” due to cotton-based snows being a fire hazard. The decline of asbestos snow came around during the time of World War II when asbestos was needed by the Navy for ship building.
If you don’t believe me, as I was researching information for this blog post, I discovered that the asbestos snow is still available on E-Bay!
Asbestos.net. (2017). Asbestos in Fake Snow -. [online] Available at: https://www.asbestos.net/exposure/products/general/fake-snow/ [Accessed 21 Dec. 2017].
Blogs.cdc.gov. (2017). OSH in the Movies: The full list | | Blogs | CDC. [online] Available at: https://blogs.cdc.gov/niosh-science-blog/2010/09/23/movie-list/ [Accessed 21 Dec. 2017].
IMDb. (2017). The Wizard of Oz (1939). [online] Available at: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0032138/trivia [Accessed 21 Dec. 2017].