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How Asbestos Was Used in Hollywood

Asbestos in Hollywood

Hollywood has been using special effects in its movies since its inception. And now with computer-generated imagery, it seems like some movies are nothing but special effects. But in the early days of filmmaking, they needed to get creative to produce images that your eye would accept as reality. The following are ways that they unknowingly used a lethal substance to produce some of those effects.

Fake Snow

Although we see plenty of real snow in Colorado, one of the most realistic effects they used was snowmaking. There are scenes in movies like The Wizard of Oz and Holiday Inn where you would swear it was really snowing. Early methods of creating fake snow included using items like cotton batting, flour, or salt. But with the use of very hot lights, cotton was eventually considered to be a fire risk to the studios. The LA fire department suggested that they instead use asbestos (chrysotile, also known as white asbestos), which was not only heat resistant but at the time thought to be risk-free. The reality is that it’s very harmful to your health.

Set Decorations

Over time, a product called foamite replaced the use of asbestos in making phony snow. Unfortunately, asbestos was still often used on movie sets inconspicuously. It could still be found in sound stage insulation, in certain props, and special effects boards which, when reused, were often cut up by set carpenters.

But anytime an asbestos-containing material is cut up, sanded, or crumpled, toxic fibers are released into the air. With constant exposure, those fibers, lodged in a person’s lungs, would become life-threatening by causing cancer and other lung-related diseases to develop.

Stunt Gear

Many Hollywood stunts involve fire and explosions. Because of that, stunt persons or actors who do their own stunts need to wear fire-resistant suits. But before the 1980s, these suits were partially made up of a combination of woven asbestos fibers and cloth that gradually deteriorated and began to sluff off its dangerous fibers.

A famous example of an actor who died of mesothelioma, the deadliest type of asbestos-causing cancer, is Steve McQueen. Not only did he perform many of his own stunts, exposing him to asbestos, but as a U.S. Marine, he stripped asbestos off pipes in a ship’s engine room. So between that and the fact that he also worked around sound stage insulation, he had prolonged exposure to asbestos, which eventually killed him.

Asbestos in Your Life

Even though asbestos is no longer used in Hollywood or most building materials, for years we all will be dealing with “legacy” asbestos. A large number of buildings in Colorado and around the country still contain much asbestos because they were constructed in the pre-1980s. There are still countless cases of people suffering from asbestos-related illnesses and will continue to be for years.

So if you suspect your home or business may contain a serious amount of asbestos, act immediately. But for your health and safety, never try to remove it yourself! If you live in Colorado Springs, Pueblo, Penrose, Salida, surrounding area contact the asbestos abatement professionals at Cyclone Kleen Up who have the experience and equipment needed to safely remove and dispose of it.