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We know that asbestos was used widely within working environments. It caused many thousands of workers to become ill years after they’d retired. However some forms of asbestos were widely used in the entertainment industry. It’s awful to say but we sat and laughed and ate popcorn, whilst we watched other people undergoing asbestos exposure.

Asbestos in Fake Snow 

Remember the poppy field scene in the 1939 MGM film, The Wizard of Oz? The snow used in those scenes was made from 100% industrial-grade chrysotile asbestos. As was the Wicked Witch’s broom and the Scarecrow’s outfit.

Wizard of Oz asbestos

Some of us will be watching Holiday Inn (1942) over the Christmas period. It’s a well-loved movie but the snow (and there was a lot of it), was pure asbestos.

And that other great Christmas movie that’s on everybody’s favourite list, It’s A Wonderful Life (1946). Well that snow was asbestos too. Can you imagine being present in the studio? Doing take after take in piles of asbestos?

How did it come to this?

Until 1930 the film industry used cotton to replicate snow. But as we know, that amount of cotton dust in the air presented a considerable fire hazard and a well meaning fire-chief called it out. Then he went one better and suggested a great, fire-retardant alternative. Asbestos.

It was white and it was fluffy and from the point of view of safety, it was perfect. It became the go-to substance to replicate snow on set.

Anyone who was involved in theatrical performances where asbestos-based fake snow was used was also at risk. In these environments, asbestos could have been used to replicate snow falling from the sky. However there were other forms of asbestos exposure. As it was a fire-resistant material, it was perfect for use in stunt suits, costumes, props and stage equipment.


Environments where fake snow asbestos was used include:

  • Live theatrical performances where asbestos was used to resemble snow
  • Department store holiday exhibits
  • Households in which families used asbestos-based artificial snow to decorate trees, ornaments and wreaths.
  • Manufacturing facilities where asbestos-based fake snow was produced

The King of Cool

Asbestos McQueen

He was the star of The Magnificent Seven, The Great Escape, The Towering Inferno, The Thomas Crown Affair, and Bullitt – some of the truly iconic films of the 60s and 70s.

Steve McQueen, one of the coolest actors on the last century died in 1980, of complications due to Mesothelioma. Initially he thought it likely that his work on movie sets was to blame. He was also a keen racing driver and thought the fire-retardant suits may have increased his asbestos exposure.

However it is thought more likely that his illness was a direct result of massive exposure he would have suffered while removing asbestos lagging from pipes aboard a troop ship while he was in the Marines.

He died in Mexico at the age of 50, from a heart attack, shortly after surgery to remove tumours from his liver and neck.

Asbestos lagging
Asbestos lagging


In addition to being used on film sets, asbestos in fake snow appeared in homes. Made of chrysotile, or “white” asbestos, the fibres resembled white, fluffy snow and were used for decorative purposes throughout the Christmas season.

In thousands of homes, this form of asbestos was sprinkled on trees, and ornaments, and put every household member at risk. Mothers created dust with the material while creating Christmas displays and, unfortunately, children tampered with the fibres as they closely resembled real snow.

Members of households that used asbestos-based fake snow are at risk of developing an asbestos-related illness. Family members who inherited antique holiday decorations could also be at risk, as trace amounts of asbestos could still lurk within family heirlooms.

Shout Out Safety Training Courses

Shout Out Safety provides Health & Safety training courses as streamed broadcast-quality HD video which increases engagement and knowledge retention.

Our Asbestos Awareness (Category A) training course covers the dangers of asbestos containing materials (ACMs). It draws on many year’s experience of in-house management, surveying and removal. Including interviews with victims and medical experts, the course provides you with a comprehensive overview of this major threat to public health. This Asbestos Awareness course will aim to protect you and everyone around you.

The course complies with Regulation 10 of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 and L143 Code of Practice – ‘Managing and Working with Asbestos’.

This is Asbestos Awareness Training – no-one wins if the trainee isn’t concentrating. Shout Out Safety courses are entertaining exactly because we’re serious about Health & Safety training. Learning is easier when people are engaged (and they engage much more when they’re entertained). 

Who is the Asbestos Awareness Training course for?

Anyone who may come into contact with Asbestos, or those managing personnel who may do so.

Including:  Electricians, Painter & Decorators, Carpenters, Construction Workers, Plumbers, Plasterers, Gas Fitters, Joiners, Roofers, Demolition Workers, Shop Fitters, General Maintenance Workers, Telecommunication Engineers, HVAC Engineers, Surveyors, Alarm installers, IT installers, Architects, Caretakers.

In fact anybody working in the construction /maintenance industries and who is likely to work on any building built before 1999 has a duty under law to undertake an Asbestos Awareness course.

The presence of asbestos dangers in UK schools can only be addressed by a long-term programme of removal. But here’s the rub, there’s over 23,000 of them and it would mean complete closure for months for each one…

In the meantime we should be looking to protect and inform ALL staff who work in buildings where the threat exists.

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