In New York City, it is pretty hard to gather clean snow. What starts out as pristine and white, quickly becomes grey mush as the urban grit takes over. Elsewhere, the snow in back yards and open fields gives the illusion of purity. But is it really pure? What exactly is in our snow, and could it be hazardous to our health?
NPR’s The Salt spoke to several scientists to get their take on the snow situation.
Jeff S. Gaffney of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock shed some light on the issue.
Snow contains primarily water, with hints of various pollutants such as nitrates, sulfates, mercury and formaldahyde. As the intricately structured flakes pass through the atmosphere, they form a net of sorts, catching black carbon, or soot along the way.
According to John Pomeroy of the University of Saskatchewan, it is suggested that one wait for the snow to fall for a few hours before gathering it up for consumption. The snow flakes scrub the atmosphere of pollutants, making the air and the snow itself cleaner and less polluted.
On a windy day, the snow mixes at lower levels with the soil on the ground. In areas like the Great Plains, the snow picks up whatever is in the soil and dust. If the area has recently been fertilized, that manure gets into the snow. And of course we all know not to eat the yellow snow at all costs!
In the city, all kinds of dirt, grit and chemicals mix with the snow making it less than palatable. Plowed snow, should never be eaten, due to all the contaminents that get mixed into it.
Despite the risks for contamination, most of the researchers agreed, that freshly fallen, unplowed country snow, holds no real risk. Dr. Pomeroy states that ” it is well-known amongst snow chemists that freshly fallen Arctic snow goes very well with 15-year-old single malt whisky.”
Now that’s a snow cone!
Photo: Glasshouse Images
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