Enticing as each snowfall may be, those of us living in urban areas should pay close attention to one aspect. Snowflakes and car exhaust gases make a toxic combination which isn’t safe to ingest.
Children have an unstoppable urge to put snow in their mouth. And why shouldn’t they? It’s fun, it’s crystallized water and we’ve all done it at least once. However, this practice, fun as it may be, should come to an end, particularly in urban areas. Air pollution is the lead mortality factor in the world. The findings of the new study led by Doctor Parisa Ariya with the McGill University, Canada add substance to the argument that snowflakes and car exhaust gases make a toxic combination.
Published in the Environmental Science journal on December 21st, 2015, the study pinpoints the process through which urban snow absorbs toxic components stemming from car exhaust gases.
The interaction between the cool temperature of snowflakes and the toxic components could result in other toxic compounds, depending on the circumstances. Against this background the research team strongly advises against ingesting urban snow. The study was conducted in preparation for a larger World Health Organization (WHO) study to be released this year.
To analyze the interaction between snowflakes and car exhaust gases, the research team used a closed chamber to release exhaust fumes and snow at the same time. The chemical reactions taking place suggest that snow is highly efficient in removing toxic components from exhaust fumes from the air.
As snowflakes have a highly absorbent area, the xylenes, ethylbenzene, benzene or toluene typically released with the exhaust fumes were efficiently absorbed by the snowflakes. Many of these components are known to cause a swath of health problems. As snow is cooler than the exhaust fumes, these toxic components are quickly removed from the air.
Aside the fact that snowflakes and car exhaust gases make a toxic combination, toxic components being removed from the air is good news. However, one interesting question rises: what happens to the toxic components once the snow melts?
Several other scientists not involved in the research have commented that the findings of the McGill University study are enticing. However, further research should focus on the aftermath of the process.
In states like China where air pollution is a real public health threat with emissions reaching alarmingly high quotas, the spike in exhaust fumes, toxic components and aerosols once the snow melts could drive the problem even further. Meanwhile, we should remember that urban snow is no longer fun to ingest. Gone are the days of snow popsicles during the first snowfall of the year.
Photo Credits: Pixabay