Asbestos in Fake Snow

“Fake snow” is nothing new. People have been attempting to either create or simulate snow since at least the last decades of the 19th century. At that time, it was made from cotton batting. Other methods of simulating fake snow included the use of jeweler’s cotton, popcorn, Epsom salts, ammonia and mica.

In 1928, a fire fighter wrote an article on the subject in which he advised not to use flammable cotton, recommending instead to “use asbestos snow and mica.”

Chrysotile, or “white” asbestos, truly does resemble real snow. Throughout the late 1920s and 30s, artificial snow was marketed under dozens of brand names: “White Magic,” “Pure White,” and “Snow Drift.” Those who remember the famous poppy field scene in the 1939 MGM film The Wizard of Oz (in which Judy Garland as Dorothy Gale fell asleep) will be appalled to know that the “snow” used in those camera shots was made from 100% industrial-grade chrysotile asbestos—despite the fact that the health hazards of asbestos had been known for several years.

During World War II, the demand for asbestos as fireproofing product aboard U.S. Navy ships and other military applications put an end to the market for asbestos “snow.” Since then, other types of fake snow have come on the market, made from various substances. According to a chemistry professor who maintains an online blog, it’s possible to make artificial snow at home from polyacrylate (used in disposable diapers and as soil conditioners) and water.

The chrysotile asbestos used in artificial snow 70 – 80 years ago was primarily used in construction materials. This type of asbestos is different from “blue” and “brown” asbestos (known as crocidolite and amosite, respectively). However, any type of asbestos is dangerous. Exposure to all kinds of asbestos fibers can cause a variety of health problems including the rare and deadly cancer, mesothelioma.