DVD Release DateThe Wizard of Oz Snow Was Made from 100% Asbestos

The Wizard of Oz Snow Was Made from 100% Asbestos

  • The Wizard of Oz used fake snow made out of asbestos, a dangerous carcinogen, in the poppy field scene.
  • Asbestos fibers, when inhaled or ingested, can cause lung inflammation, scarring, genetic damage, and even mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer.
  • The production of The Wizard of Oz faced other health hazards as well, such as poisoning from aluminum makeup and injuries from pyrotechnic stunts.

In the 1939 classic film The Wizard of Oz, the notorious poppy field scene featured snow made from the toxic mineral asbestos. Although the film industry has undergone many changes since then, this beloved Judy Garland movie continues to spark creativity with its practical effects. Regrettably, some of the techniques used during production were quite dangerous, including the use of asbestos.

Updated Dec. 30, 2023: This article has been updated with additional content about the utilization of asbestos in The Wizard of Oz.

The poppy field scene gained infamy after it was revealed that the fake snow was pure asbestos. In the film, Dorothy wakes up in a snow-covered poppy field created by Glinda the Good Witch. Chrysotile, or white asbestos, was formerly sold as fake snow for Christmas decorations and was used in this scene, as well as in various other applications such as roofing materials, brake pads, interior fire doors, stage curtains, and popcorn ceilings. According to Atlas Obscura, The Wizard of Oz “literally dous[es] its main characters in carcinogens,” given the significant amount of fake snow utilized.

When asbestos dust is breathed in or swallowed, the mineral fibers may become trapped in the body indefinitely. These trapped fibers can cause lung inflammation, scarring, and even genetic damage. Mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer, is nearly solely attributed to asbestos exposure, along with other cancer types and lung diseases. However, it has not been officially confirmed that anyone from The Wizard of Oz’s set died due to asbestos usage in the poppy field scene.

Asbestos was also reportedly used in Ray Bolger’s Scarecrow costume in addition to the fake snow. Since the character encounters fire numerous times in the film, it is thought that his costume was coated with a flameproofing material made of asbestos. Fortunately, modern film crews use safer methods for creating fake snow or handling real flames on set, thanks to advancements in safety technology and the increasing use of computer-generated effects.

Despite being perhaps the most beloved movie of all time, The Wizard of Oz’s production had its fair share of issues. Originally cast as the Tin Man, Buddy Ebsen landed in the hospital for two weeks after the aluminum in his makeup seeped into his body, poisoning him. He was replaced by Jack Haley, who went on to develop a milder infection that was more easily treated. Additionally, Margaret Hamilton suffered injuries during one of her smoke-filled disappearing stunts and had to be rushed to the hospital, taking six weeks to fully recover.