Each Monday we write about the New England environment and way of life seen through our local perspective. Previous posts
By Amy Miller
It was the first day of spring and northern New England was looking just plain gorgeous. Not gorgeous like tiny lilac crocus bulbs emerging. Not gorgeous like sun beating down on my patio while I drink coffee.
Rather, gorgeous like Santa in the North Pole, gorgeous like Disney’s winter wonderland. In my Maine yard, soft white snow laces every branch, covers all the pavement and hides any dirt kicked up by car traffic last week. Icicles hang off eaves, while smoke wafts up from woodstoves warming children thrilled to have another snow day home.
OK, it sounds more like heaven in December than in April. But we New Englanders have learned to take what we can get. And make the best of it. So we make snowmen, take walks, get exercise by shoveling and do charity by shoveling for neighbors. We also celebrate with snow slushies. Yes, slushies made with the fallen-from-the-sky white stuff.
Turns out, though, we have to be careful if we are going to make these natural slushies. We all know – even southerners must know – that if the snow is yellow, it has been polluted by animals (likely my dog or his best friend neighbor dog). And black or brown snow most likely comes from cars and people kicking up dirt.
But what about pink snow? Apparently, snow can collect bacteria, which turns the white stuff pink. Snow can also become contaminated by pollution as it falls to the ground. Snow is fairly efficient at collecting pollution as it falls, according to Dr. Helen Suh, environmental studies professor at Northeastern University.
Once formed, the crystals that are snow can stay in the air for hours collecting pollutants before they fall to the ground. This means airborne pollution can be hidden in even newly fallen snow. Meaning that metals, acidic pollutants, and persistent organic pollutants can all be in our slushies.
Lucky for me and my kids, the amount of pollution is related to the amount of pollution in your neighborhood air, which generally is related to traffic. Although my street is sometimes a bypass for people avoiding traffic in the village, we often go minutes at a time without seeing a car.
Even in cities, Suh said, studies have found freshly fallen snow has a low amount of pollution. Just stay away from that colored stuff. And if your kids don’t believe you about the colored stuff, Dr. Suh suggests you melt some snow in a container and see what you find.
About the author: Amy Miller is a writer who works in the public affairs office of EPA New England in Boston. She lives in Maine with her husband, two children, seven chickens, two parakeets, dog and a great community.