Eating snow or snow cream isn’t entirely safe, thanks to fossil fuel & industrial air pollution

It seems I missed out on something in childhood – Snow Cream – a treat that’s supposedly common for children to eat like Ice Cream.  While I’m sure I ate some snow here and there, it wasn’t flavored with anything – so far as I recall.  Only now did I learn of this when I heard of a product someone is planning to sell that will be a line of flavors with which to make Snow Cream.  While this fills ones mind with visions of children happily enjoying sweet stuff, isn’t snow dangerous?  Doesn’t the air pollution from cars and factories and such mean snow is filled with toxic chemicals?  It’s not just the Yellow Snow you should avoid, but we should avoid eating ANY snow?

Worse – turning snow from a natural thing one might sample a bit here and there, into a sweet treat you might gorge yourself on, well, that sounds like a bad lesson to teach to children.

I’m not talking about dancing around catching a few snowflakes on your tongue.  At a small amount even the most toxic snow should be okay.  But, if you’re going to make a bowl of snow cream every day and chow down, that’s a different story.

So far this post is just repeating an urban legend:  Snow probably isn’t safe because it probably is filled with toxic air pollution chemicals absorbed as the snow forms and falls through the atmosphere.

The question is whether, or not, snow actually picks up toxic chemicals from the atmosphere.  Further, whether snow that’s on the ground is safe or not.

Isn’t snow just crystalized distilled water?  Where would be the harm?

The handwaving argument is that, indeed, snow should pick up toxic chemicals from the atmosphere.  Those chemicals get into the atmosphere from all the human activities like driving cars and buying things made in factories that belch chemicals out their smoke stacks.  Snow crystals form around dust particles, and air pollution is made of particles, so therefore snow should form around air pollution particles.  Further, just as Acid Rain happens when rain picks up chemicals from the atmosphere, the same should happen with snow.

A Q&A article in the 2008 Chicago Tribune agrees with that bit of theorizing I just did.  The article quotes two atmosphere scientists that indeed snow picks up toxic chemicals from the atmosphere.

While one would expect snowfall in areas with highly polluted air to be more toxic, the atmosphere is highly efficient at moving toxins around the planet.  All of us are sharing our pollution footprint with everyone else on the planet, affecting everything that interacts with the atmosphere.

On About.com a PHD Expert weighs in with similar cautions.  She adds that the “first snow” is going to be more toxic because its effect is to “wash” the atmosphere, and that later snows will be cleaner because of having fallen through a pre-washed atmosphere.

Another issue is snow that’s on the ground can be contaminated in other ways than just air pollution.  The “Yellow Snow” gets that color from animal urine, and snow can take on other colors from algae contamination.

Then there’s the chemicals sprayed to clear roads of snow.   According to RT News the chemicals they use in Moscow Russia are highly toxic.  Clearly you shouldn’t eat snow anywhere near a road.

And snow in Canada’s Tar Sands area is, according to the CBC, truly full of toxins, because of the tar sands processing work going on in that area.  The report cited by the CBC says the toxins found in snow are dangerous to fish eggs but doesn’t say anything about the effect on mammals.

The Tar Sands Oil? That’s connected to the whole Keystone XL thing, and in general is a symptom of peak oil but that’s a blog post for another day.

In other words – by starting with the innocent act of children eating flavored snow, we’ve been able to demonstrate various effects on our environment from fossil fuel production, fossil fuel consumption, industrial activities, and making roads safe for driving.

Symbolically snow is pristine, but as we’ve just seen it’s anything but pristine thanks to the effects of modern society on the environment.

Are we sure we want snow to be poisoned by modern society?

About David Herron

David Herron is a writer and software engineer living in Silicon Valley. He primarily writes about electric vehicles, clean energy systems, climate change, peak oil and related issues. When not writing he indulges in software projects and is sometimes employed as a software engineer. David has written for sites like PlugInCars and TorqueNews, and worked for companies like Sun Microsystems and Yahoo.

About David Herron

David Herron is a writer and software engineer living in Silicon Valley. He primarily writes about electric vehicles, clean energy systems, climate change, peak oil and related issues. When not writing he indulges in software projects and is sometimes employed as a software engineer. David has written for sites like PlugInCars and TorqueNews, and worked for companies like Sun Microsystems and Yahoo.

Leave a Reply