Experts have warned that Britons could be unwittingly exposing themselves to deadly asbestos particles released when using vintage Christmas decorations.
Vintage baubles and other festive ornaments could contain the killer mineral in the form of fake snow made from pure asbestos, a name given to six fibrous minerals which have been mined for thousands of years.
Concerns centre on decorations dating back to the 1940’s when white powdery asbestos-based fake snow was popular in shops and homes for use on Christmas Decorations such as baubles, statues and wreaths because of its strength, resistance to heat, and sound-proofing capabilities.
Vintage baubles and other festive ornaments, which have become very popular over recent years, could be laced with the killer mineral because in the 1940s fake snow was often made from pure asbestos.
When the decorations are put out the particles could be spread throughout the house, the UK Asbestos Training Association, the body responsible for ensuring asbestos safety in homes and workplaces, warns.
Craig Evans, manager of the UK Asbestos Training Association, said: “In the 1930s and 1940s asbestos was used in abundance to create fake snow – products called Pure White, White Magic and Snow Drift were common in department stores and even in people’s homes.
“Children played with it. Anyone who had any contact with this material was inhaling asbestos fibres in quantities normally associated only with those who worked in asbestos mines.
“The use of asbestos-based fake snow stopped with the Second World War when tonnes of asbestos was needed for insulation on ships, planes and other military uses.
“But Christmas decorations it was used on may still exist.
“Households up and down the country may still have decorations from that era that they keep in the loft until Christmas comes round.
“People might be completely oblivious to the fact that each year they could be running the risk of inhaling deadly asbestos fibres from their old decorations.
“What’s more, it’s estimated around 1.5 million homes in the UK have asbestos in them and if people are storing Christmas decorations in their lofts underneath loose-fill asbestos insulation it could be dropping onto them.
“Asbestos dust which may settle on their tree and decorations, which will ultimately spread throughout their home whilst putting up their decorations.
“It’s impossible to know how many people could potentially be exposing themselves to asbestos each Christmas.
“Our warning is to replace any antique decorations that have fake snow on them with new decorations. They might not look quite as nice but they are guaranteed to be safe.
“Anyone who thinks they have asbestos-laced decorations should contact their local authority which can advise on how to dispose of them in the proper way.
“Asbestos in Christmas decorations is not something many people will be thinking of this festive season but it’s a very serious danger that should not be underestimated.”
The UK has one of the highest rates of mesothelioma, an incurable type of cancer caused by asbestos, in the world with around 2,500 people being diagnosed each year.