For many of us, snow is synonymous with Christmas. Bing Crosby famously dreamt of it, while Christmas cards are often decorated with snow-filled scenes depicting a white Christmas.
The famous Bing Crosby scene was in the film Holiday Inn, where he sings “White Christmas” as snow falls around him. Unsurprisingly, artificial snow was used. Shockingly, it was made from chrysotile asbestos.
In the beginning, cotton was used to make artificial snow but, in 1928, an article written by a firefighter advised people to stop using cotton as it is flammable, and instead to use asbestos. Consequently, asbestos-made snow became popular for many years.
Chrysotile asbestos is pure white in color, and greatly mimics the look of authentic snow. It was used in many Hollywood films. As well as Holiday Inn, it was also used in The Wizard of Oz in the scene where Dorothy and the scarecrow, tin man and lion are unconscious in a poppy field and the snow begins to fall.
Little did the cast members know that they were being showered with a potentially lethal carcinogen.
Due to the increasing popularity of artificial snow, manufacturers began making and marketing numerous brands for public use. Some of the more popular brands include “White Christmas,” “Snow Drift,” “White Magic,” and “Pure White.”
Shops also used asbestos snow for window displays and scenery, meaning that shoppers risked inhaling asbestos fibres while doing their Christmas shopping.
Today, fake snow and decorations can be made from materials with different types of fire retardant and the use of asbestos has been banned in the UK. But this does not mean that the problem has gone away. In many homes, traditional Christmas ornaments are saved for decades, passed down the generations and used to decorate the tree year after year. Some of these may have been purchased when asbestos snow was still in use and may still pose a threat decades later. It is fair to say that this would not result in heavy exposure, but it has been accepted for a long time that there is no safe level of exposure.
If you have any old Christmas ornaments that were around when asbestos was in use, we recommend that they are tested by a certified asbestos inspector.
We wish all our readers a happy (asbestos free) Christmas.