I've never heard of this before when I saw this posted on the Community Goal Feed and my first thought was, 'What about pollution?' I'm sure that most of us who live in snowy areas during wintertime have as kids eaten snow or at least have had a taste - but that was when we were kids - and times have changed along with the increased pollution in the air.
I looked up snow ice cream on the net and the full page of recipes indicates that there is some popularity, but no warnings about pollution. So obviously at least for me more research is needed.
I didn't have to look too far - NPR has an excellent article. Here's what I learned from it.
- The main ingredient of snow is mostly water - with various and sundry things depending on where it comes from - things like sulfates, nitrates, formaldehyde or mercury. (Yikes!!!)
- As snow falls through the sky it's intricate latticework acts like a net catching pollutants in the atmosphere.
- The most common is black carbon, or soot, released by coal-fired plants and wood-burning stoves.
- John Pomeroy, a researcher who studies water resources and climate change at the University of Saskatchewan, suggests it's better to wait until a few hours into the snowfall to gather your fresh catch. Snow acts like a kind of atmospheric "scrubbing brush" . The longer the snow falls, the lower the pollution levels in the air, and thus in the snow.
- However, Jeff S. Gaffney, a professor of chemistry at the University of Arkansas advises if you start to collect snow as soon as it begins to flurry that contaminants in snow are "all at levels well below toxic." (Hmmmmmm, levels well below toxic isn't reassuring to me!)
- Staci Simonich, a professor of environmental and toxic ecology at Oregon State University advised that long-lost pesticides might also show up in snow in some places. She found pesticides that were 30, 40 and 50 years old in high elevations in several U.S. national parks (including Olympic in Washington, Denali in Alaska and Sequoia in California). But the levels were 100 times lower than what's deemed safe for drinking water.
- Simonich says that pesticide concentrations are likely higher in backyard snow in urban and suburban areas. "That being said, I would not hesitate for my children to have the joy of eating a handful of fresh fallen snow from my backyard. ... Because the pesticide concentrations are low and the amount of snow eaten in a handful is small, so the one-time dose is very low and not a risk to health."
- And if it's windy, be extra careful. Sarah Doherty, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Washington advised that samples of snow taken in the northern Great Plains in 20 - 30 mph winds revealed dirt mixed with the snow. As the falling snow gets closer to the ground, it mixes up with whatever is blowing around so the toxicity level depends on what's in the soil. Think a load of manure delivered in advance of spring planting and suddenly a blizzard whips through, a strong wind can quickly ruin the fresh snowball you'd planned to devour.
- Never eat snow that's been plowed - it likely contains sand and chemicals.
- Amazingly to me even though they note that pollutants like sulfates, mercury and DDT could appear in low levels in snow, almost all the researchers spoken with said they would still eat it, and even savor it. (NOT THIS GIRL!!!)
- However, an atmospheric physical chemist at McGill University in Montreal advised she would not let her kids eat snow in urban areas - she found falling snow can soak up unsavory chemicals from gasoline exhaust in the air, like toluene, xylenes and benzene, a known carcinogen.
Obviously this is an individual choice, and the amount of contaminants are supposedly well below harmful levels, but I for one don't want to add anymore pollutants into my system!!! So for me,
Check out the entire article at: www.npr.org/sect