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Know Your Snow

Do you remember counting how many snowflakes you could catch on your tongue when you were a child? Maybe you play the same game with your own children, only now you might wonder if allowing those puffy white flakes to melt in your children's mouths is a good idea.

Every spring, remote areas in northern Saskatchewan experience higher than normal proportions of toxins in rivers, streams, and soil due to melting snow. And the toxins don't even have to be native to that area.

Agricultural pesticides like gamma-hexachlorocyclohexane, usually found in the southern States and Mexico, make their way through the atmosphere as microscopic dust particles that form the actual core of snowflakes. Water molecules stick to the dust particles and form crystals as they are bounced a around by wind and cool temperatures. Frank Wania, an associate professor at the University of Toronto, says that environmental contaminants like PCBs can travel from India to the arctic in only five days.

Are the days of building snowmen and making snow angels over? Not necessarily. Catching a few snowflakes on your tongue to see how they taste is pretty harmless. Just stay away from yellow snow!

Breaking the Ice

Slippery sidewalks and driveways can spell injuries during winter months. A quick solution to dissolving ice is to scatter rock salt, or sodium chloride, over frozen areas. But you might want to reconsider buying that bag of salt.

Sodium chloride has been found to cause eye irritation, dermatitis, and rashes when coming in contact with skin. Dogs and cats can develop severe burns on the underside of their paws and can become ill trying to lick the salt off. Between 30 and 50 percent of rock salt spread on roads and sidewalks adversely affects the environment by contaminating ground water and killing plants. The risk to humans is also increased as higher levels of sodium in drinking water can cause hypertension and high blood pressure.

Fortunately there are alternatives to rock salt. Ash, sand, and cat litter provide some traction for walking but won't do much to melt the ice. Look for eco-friendly products specially formulated for households with children and pets at your local health food store. The safest, although not the easiest way to rid your walk of ice, is to break it up with a shovel and clear a path. At least your muscles will get a workout during those long winter months.

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