For all the purity and cleanliness associated with snow, these metaphors don’t seem to have much scientific grounding. And now that the east coast of the United States is being mercilessly pummeled by Winter Storm Jonas, it’s high time to remind you, dear friends, that as tempting as that snow may look, please don’t eat it. Really.
Believe me, I was more disappointed than anyone to discover that the untouched white drifts are actually chock full of toxic pollutants. At one point, I had grand plans about eating a bowl of snow with a drizzle of warm maple syrup to reward myself for staying inside all day. But alas, those dreams have all been dashed to pieces, thanks to some very timely research from Canada’s McGill University, which reveals that snow (particularly in urban areas like New York, Washington, D.C., and many of the other areas worst hit by Jonas) is no cleaner than the polluted air.
According to Professor Parisa Ariya, who teaches chemistry and atmospheric sciences at McGill, snow behaves something like a sponge, soaking up all the smog-causing chemicals in the atmosphere, including benzene, toulene, xylenes, and more.
“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.”
Because of snow’s ability to quickly remove and then absorb chemicals from the air, Ariya and her team determined that the way in which cold temperatures and the freezing precipitation interact with gasoline exhaust may constitute a public health threat. Indeed, the scientists say, this new health hazard should be a consideration in ongoing climate change conversations.
Of course, if for some strange reason, you’re dead set on taking part in Winter Storm Jonas from a culinary perspective, you should at least wait a few hours after the snowfall has begun before eating it. Because snow effectively cleanses the air as it falls, the later in the storm it becomes, the cleaner the atmosphere, and by extension, the flakes. And given that Jonas looks to be a day-long affair, you’ll have many an opportunity to get your fix.
But still, we wouldn’t recommend it. Just drink some water instead.