Frank Zappa warned you in the 1960s: don't eat that yellow snow. But with a potentially big nor’easter approaching the Atlantic seaboard, researchers have warned even the white kind isn’t necessarily a healthy choice.
Air pollution particles are carried and stored in the snowflakes, meaning that ingesting the white stuff could be bad stuff, according to a study published last month in the journal Environmental Science: Processes and Impacts.
“The concentrations of benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylenes increased from near the detection limit… indicating the abruption of exhaust-derived organic compounds by snow,” write the researchers, from McGill University in Montreal.
The particles leave the exhaust cooler system – and when they hit the colder snow environment, the colder temperatures essentially suck out certain sizes of the particulate matter, like a sponge, according to an analysis by the Royal Society of Chemistry.
Those particles are known carcinogens.
“The alteration of exhaust aerosol size distributions at freezing temperatures and in the presence of snow, accompanied by changes of the organic pollutant content in snow, has potential to alter health effects of human exposure to vehicle exhaust,” adds the study.
However, other scientists have said the air-pollutant factor in snow is negligible. An analysis by a team at the University of California Santa Barbara said the thrill of eating snow is not a danger.
“Bottom line: eating clean snow is not only safe, it is fun and sometimes necessary, and something everyone should do at least once in their life,” they write.
Air pollution is considered one of the bigger widespread health threats in the world, with the World Health Organization citing it as a factor in the development of cancer, heart attacks and stroke occurrence in a 2014 study. Another study claimed that air pollution causes more than 4,000 deaths daily in China alone.