Nowadays, most people would rather die than go anywhere near anything containing asbestos, but there was once a time when it was widely used for a variety of purposes before it was recognized as a significant carcinogen, and people literally sprinkled themselves with fake snow containing asbestos.
Generally speaking, asbestos was used by the tens of millions of tons for nearly over a century and a half in modern history for a wide variety of applications, mostly due to its fire resistance, insulating properties, durability/strength, inertness, could be woven, and was cheap and abundant.
Major asbestos manufacturers had large research and development programs constantly finding new ways to use it, including in cigarette filters.
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.
This story was long before we realized that asbestos was a known risk factor for an aggressive form of cancer known as mesothelioma, but still, people used asbestos-containing holiday decorations for decades.
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 popular example being “The Wizard of Oz”, the 1939 classic with Judy Garland that became the most watched film in history. There is a scene in the movie where snow, made from asbestos, falls on Dorothy and her friends, awakening them from a spell cast by the Wicked Witch of the West.
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, was used a sprayable foam with ingredients foamite, water, sugar and soap.
However, experts warn that vintage decorations that have a “frosted” look probably contain asbestos.
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 it as major ingredient.
Images from web – Google Research