Is it safe to eat snow?

Ask Tom Why

Dear Tom,
I see children in my neighborhood sometimes eating snow. Is this a safe thing to do?
Dolores Macintyre, Chicago
Dear Dolores,
It is not a good practice. It’s not that snow would prove to be immediately toxic, but it is possible that the snow might contain traces of chemicals you really don’t want to eat. This is especially true in and around urban areas (like Chicago).
Snowflakes can contain many of the chemicals that fall in acid rain. Using fresh fallen snow as your dessert might introduce sulfates, nitrates, acids, various types of particulates, lead and possibly even traces of naturally radioactive beryllium; even bacteria can be found in snow. And in countries that still burn coal, the snow might also include fly ash (airborne bits of unburnable ash). To repeat: Eating snow is not recommended.

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