January 23, 2016

Is it ok to eat the snow?

Researchers say you probably shouldn't, but a little won't kill you

Snow Eating
Eating snow Dar Yasin/AP Photo

A Kashmiri Muslim boy poses for a photo as he eats snow in Srinagar, India, Friday, Jan. 3, 2014.

Did you know that it began snowing in the Philadelphia region Friday night and continued falling into Saturday morning? If not, take a look out your window. It's a blizzard out there, people.

While you should spend most of your time indoors staying warm and safe, a snowstorm of this magnitude begs for you to take place in at least some winter weather activities, like sledding through the snow and, well, eating it too.

But is the latter a harmless snack or a hazard to your health? Several news outlets have sough to answer the question by sifting through health data and asking researchers. The answers are mixed.

Here's the thing: it's probably not a good idea.

As the Washington Post points out, snow acts as a "sponge" of sorts for several dangerous chemicals, according to researchers of chemistry and atmospheric sciences at Canada’s McGill University. More from the Post:

They found that the snow acted like a sponge, efficiently removing chemicals like benzene, toulene, xylenes and others from the air.

Of course, all of those chemicals then end up in the snow, where they make for a very unsavory snack. Benzene, which is present in gasoline, crude oil and cigarette smoke, interferes with cell functions and can cause anemia, leukemia and other problems, according to the World Health Organization. The Environmental Protection Agency says that toulene, a gasoline additive, can damage the central nervous system, while xylenes are associated with neurological problems, breathing difficulties and kidney failure, among other concerns.

That's alarming, to say the least. But Staci Simonich, a professor of environmental and toxic ecology at Oregon State University, told NPR last year that just having a little bit won't kill you. While pesticides are commonly found in snow, it's not risky enough that you should stop enjoying a handful, if you feel so inclined. More from NPR:

And what about in urban and suburban areas, where most of us harvest our snow? Simonich says that pesticide concentrations are likely higher in backyard snow. "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."

Again, eating snow is not in any way recommended. Another researcher told NPR that she definitely would not suggest her kids eat snow that falls in urban areas because of the chemicals found in the precipitation.

However, just having a taste isn't going to kill you. Just ask FOX29's Steve Keeley.