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The Toxic Pollutants Hiding in Snow

4/13/17 8:49 AM

We have all been waiting on the return of spring, but as the temperatures begin to warm and the snow starts melting, the quality of the air we breathe only gets worse. Researchers from McGill University in Montreal say the seasonal transition has us breathing in a "toxic cocktail" caused from car emissions over the winter.

"Understanding how these pollutants interact with the environment, including snow, is crucial if we are to reduce the hundreds of thousands of premature deaths caused by mild air pollution in North America." says Professor Parisa Ariya, senior author of the group's new study.

The team at McGill discovered that snow absorbs polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons which are known to be carcinogenic and linked to cardiovascular disease and poor fetal development. Once that snow melts, all of the accumulated pollutants are released into the air, soil and waterways.

By exposing exhaust fumes to snow, researchers found that the fumes are affected differently by the cold and snow depending on the type of fuel being emitted. The experiment revealed the snow absorbs airborne particulate matter and alters the concentrations of nanoparticles, the smallest particles found in air pollution. What came as a surprise to researchers, the colder temperatures and interaction with snow increased the relative presence of smaller nanoparticles in the polluted air above the snow.

Air pollutants undergo chemical transitions in the snowpack, creating additional pollutants with varying toxicity and carcinogenicity. Those pollutants can either evaporate back into the air, or buildup in the snow and are released as the snow melts.

Further research would be needed to identify the most harmful pollutants, which could be used to improve gasoline formulas, optimize engine development and exhaust treatment technologies.

MadgeTech offers a variety of data logging solutions for environmental monitoring. From measuring and recording air quality levels to diesel emissions, MadgeTech data loggers provide accuracy and reliability during research and development. To view all of the data loggers designed specifically for environmental monitoring, click here.

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