The dark side of spring – melting snow releases toxins

There is a peak contaminant flush at the very beginning of the melting of snow.

Washington: Spring is finally in the air, but it has a dark side too — melting snow releasing toxins, according to a Canadian researcher.

"During the winter months, contaminants accumulate in the snow. When the snow melts, these chemicals are released into the environment at high concentrations, said University of Toronto Scarborough environmental chemist Torsten Meyer. In a specially designed lab, and armed with a homemade snow-gun and a chemical pump, Meyer created large baths of fresh snow already tainted with organic contaminants.

This one-of-a-kind set-up enables him to slowly melt his ‘dirty’ snow, collect the melt-water and track which chemicals emerge from the snow pack and when.

He was able to track how the chemicals migrate into the environment.

"One of the main findings is that there is a peak contaminant flush at the very beginning of the melt," he said.

In other words, with the advent of spring comes a deluge of pollution.

By the time snow has turned black with muck and grime, many harmful chemicals, including those from pesticides, car exhaust, telecommunications wiring insulation, water repellent clothing, paints or coatings, may have already seeped out of the snow and into the surrounding ground water or surface water, said Meyer.

His findings have real-world implications, such as how municipalities choose their snow dumpsites.

Cities and towns should be very careful to select well-contained sites to protect against that early flush of pollutants, he said.


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