We received an alarming call Wednesday morning. A parent in the Tyler, Texas area read a Facebook post from a friend with a shocking claim that his daughter ate some fluffy Insta-Snow and, at the hospital, her blood alcohol level was 2.0.
The first thought that goes through your mind is about the child’s safety and well-being. We are told by school officials that the child is doing fine, irrespective of the actual cause of the alcohol poisoning. Based on the chemical composition of Insta-Snow, there is no alcohol in this product nor does it break down to produce alcohol as a byproduct in a person’s stomach. In other words, it’s not possible that the cause of the child’s extremely elevated blood alcohol content was from eating a handful of a non-toxic, superabsorbent material commonly found in the lining of a baby diaper. Of course, not all fake snow is made out of the same material. If a doctor contacted Poison Control and requested information about “fake snow,” it’s possible that the results could vary greatly. Some fake snow comes from an aerosol can and is used to decorate windows, for example. Other forms of fake snow are made from ground up pieces of Styrofoam, potato flakes, soap shavings or even the superabsorbent material found in a baby diaper.
It’s important to note that Insta-Snow is not a food and is not meant to be eaten, just like crayons are not meant to be consumed. It is safe to touch, squeeze through your fingers and experiment with as instructed by the activity guide. As with all science related products, adult supervision is required.
For the people who aren’t familiar, Insta-Snow® powder is a substance that absorbs 300-500 times its weight in water. When a small scoop of this powder is added to water, the mixture erupts into a material that looks and feels like snow. The product is commonly used by teachers in classrooms to explore the properties of matter, demonstrate the conservation of mass and to explore the superabsorbent material found in baby diapers.
Insta-Snow® is a non-hazardous material that is a safe for children to use and experiment with adult supervision. Due to the widespread use of this product, Insta-Snow® powder is required annually to pass testing standards, especially when it comes to the use of it in the toy category.
Within hours of that post going up on this person’s Facebook wall, our office was hit hard with calls from people requesting the MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet) product information and testing results on Insta-Snow® powder, and demanding answers. Without question, all of the product safety information was e-mailed to everyone within minutes of the request. The MSDS clearly shows that the product is not considered hazardous. It’s easy to understand why the medical professionals and authorities who contacted our office and received the official product testing documentation immediately came to the same conclusion.
If you have never read a Material Data Safety Sheet, the verbiage can be alarming with regard to first aid measures and or personal protection procedures. For example, the MSDS for ordinary table salt warns consumers to “wear chemical splash googles, chemical-resistant gloves and a chemical-resistant apron” whenever making contact with sodium chloride… or table salt. Statements that warn consumers to “restrict unprotected personnel from the area” or to “start artificial respiration if breathing has stopped” can scare anyone, especially a concerned parent, until you realize that the chemical in question is table salt. Does anyone really wear goggles, gloves and an apron when salting their French fries? Probably not. The lesson here is that an MSDS may advise the most extreme measures for one’s personal protection, but common sense may suggest a different action.
As teachers of science, we have our work cut out for us when it comes to teaching our students, parents and surrounding community members how to think more critically and use basic science facts and problem-solving skills to arrive at well-informed conclusions.