Eating snow can be hazardous to your health, study finds

WASHINGTON — Frank Zappa warned “Don’t Eat the Yellow Snow,” but new research says it’s dangerous to eat the freshly-fallen white stuff, too.

With substantial snow heading toward the D.C. region, a team of Canadian scientists says snow in urban areas can absorb the toxic and carcinogenic pollutants that come from car exhaust.

Researchers at McGill University analyzed the interaction of snow and exhaust fumes in a sealed chamber, and determined that the snow removed pollutant particles from the air.

According to the Huffington Post, after an hour, the snow’s concentration of benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylenes increased dramatically.

The interaction of pollutants and freezing temperatures might even cause the release of new compounds, says Dr. Parisa Ariya, professor of chemistry and atmospheric sciences at McGill, who led the research.

“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,” Ariya said.

Ariya’s team concludes the interaction of snow and freezing temperatures with exhaust fumes could present a public health threat, and should be included in climate change research.

But Ariya adds, “I do not wish to be alarmist.”

The research was published online Dec. 21 in the journal Environmental Science: Processes & Impacts.

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

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