Many old movies used asbestos to create the illusion of snow. Remember the scene in “The Wizard of Oz” when Dorothy fell asleep in the poppy field? Glinda, the Good Witch of the North, sent snow to wake them, but the film crew could not lean on computerized special effects to make it snow. Instead, they dusted the cast with asbestos fibers, which people believed to be harmless at the time.
“White Christmas” was another classic film that utilized the substance. In the final scene, which takes place on Christmas eve, Bing Crosby’s character sings on a stage as a stagehand sprinkles asbestos over him to simulate wintry precipitation.
Dangerous artificial snow also made its way into people’s homes
Unfortunately, it wasn’t just Hollywood that used asbestos to create the illusion of snow. From the 1920s through the 1950s, companies marketed and sold asbestos to consumers as non-flammable, fake snow. The product went by names, such as White Magic, Pure White and Snow Drift.
During World War II, the demand for asbestos on Navy ships was prioritized over the demand for artificial snow, so use of the material for holiday decorations tapered off. However, many asbestos-covered decorations from bygone days remain in use today. Many holiday decorations are reused year after year and even passed on from one generation to the next.
This year may be the right time to invest in new decorations
However, vintage holiday decorations may not be worth the risk associated with keeping them. Any amount of asbestos exposure could cause aggressive forms of cancer, such as mesothelioma. However, symptoms of asbestos-related diseases often do not appear until decades after exposure occurred, which can sometimes make the cause of the illness difficult to identify.
If you have older holiday decorations, especially ones that incorporate fake snow, it may be safest to replace them. If there is a chance you could have been exposed to asbestos in the past, it may be beneficial to share this with your doctor. This knowledge may help your doctor identify an asbestos-related disease earlier, which can increase the number of possible treatment options.