Study Finds Snow Is Toxic -- And You Probably Shouldn't Eat It

  • Mary Nichols , Design & Trend Contributor
  • Jan, 20, 2016, 12:59 AM
Tags : science, news
(Photo : Getty Images/Charles McQuillan) A new study suggests that snow falling in urban areas could absorb dangerous chemicals from car exhausts.

Snowflakes may look pristine, pure and beautiful - but a new study suggests that they're not as clean as they may look.

A team of scientists found snow falling in urban areas is able to absorb toxic and carcinogenic pollutants released from car exhausts, writes The Huffington Post. The interaction between the pollutants and snows freezing temperatures could even cause the release of new compounds, according to lead author Dr. Parisa Ariya, professor of chemistry and atmospheric sciences at McGill University in Canada.

"Snow flakes are ice particles with various types of surfaces, including several active sites, that can absorb various gaseous or particulate pollutants," she told The Huffington Post. "As a mother who is an atmospheric physical chemist, I definitely do not suggest my young kids to eat snow in urban areas in general."

However, she added that she did not want to be an alarmist.

The researchers simulated the  interaction between snow and particles and pollutants expelled from car exhausts in a "snow chamber," according to Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC). After observing the chemical reactions, they found that the snow absorbed the pollutant particles from the air surrounding it.

After one hour in close proximity to the chemical particles - which included benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylenes - the researchers found that the presence of the chemicals in the snow had drastically increased. 

As snow absorbs the pollutants, one conclusion could be that living in a snowy environment could be beneficial to health. However, it could cause a rise in pollutants as it melts. 

"If the sink is temporary, pollutant emissions could increase rapidly in industrialised areas when snow melts," study co-author Parisa Ariya told RSC.

As there is a potential threat to public health, the researchers believe it should form part of the discussion around climate change.

"Without considering snow and ice, one will not be able to properly evaluate the effect of exhaust emission, and subsequently health and climate impacts, for the cities which receive snow," Ariya told The Huffington Post"Further research -- lab, field and model -- is recommended to address various aspects of such experiments under various environmental conditions, for adequate implementation in future modeling. Further advisory policy will also be required."

The study was published in the journal Environmental Science: Processes & Impacts.

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