As the East Coast enters full-on snowglobe mode this weekend, you may feel the urge to stick out your tongue and taste the glistening flakes. Heck, you may even want to gather up generous mitten-fulls of the stuff and make old-fashioned snow cream.
A new study suggests that you strongly reconsider that notion — especially if you live in a large city.
Researchers at McGill University in Canada found that falling snow soaks up all sorts of toxic pollutants from the air. “Snowflakes are ice particles with various types of surfaces, including several active sites, that can absorb various gaseous or particulate pollutants,” lead researcher Dr. Parisa Ariya tells 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.”
The latest findings offer a more heightened state of alert than previous reports on the potential hazards of snow consumption. An NPR report last spring quoted several scientists downplaying the risks of serious harm from ingesting the white stuff — the clean, fresh-fallen kind, that is, rather than the plowed piles, obviously — noting that contaminants are “all at levels well below toxic” and that a “one-time dose is…not a risk to health.” One climate researcher suggests that you can even reduce your exposure by waiting a few hours into a snowfall before indulging; he likens the fluffy condensation to a natural “scrubbing brush” that cleans the air as it comes down: “The longer the snow falls, the lower the pollution levels in the air, and thus in the snow.”
Too bad Rock & Roll Hall of Famer Frank Zappa is no longer around to update his cautionary 1974 ballad “Don’t Eat the Yellow Snow.” In 2016, it seems, the message for urban foragers is more like “Don’t eat any snow.”