Skiers and Snowboarders Face High Risk of Exposure to PFAS.
Skiers and Snowboarders Face High Risk of Exposure to PFAS
Waxing may pose significant risk of exposure to PFAS and other environmental contaminants among the US ski and snowboard community.
Skiers and snowboarders routinely apply wax to the bottom of their skis and boards because it helps the equipment glide faster and more consistently across snow. However, many of the waxes contain harmful per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) and other chemicals that are hazardous to human health and to the environment. Harmful solvents are also commonly used to clean wax off of equipment, and all of these contaminants are released into the air, water, and snow near ski and snowboard areas, posing health risks to humans and wildlife.
While previous research has examined occupational exposure to these contaminants by wax technicians, there is limited data on the extent to which recreational skiers and snowboarders may be affected by these hazards. Now, a study led by a School of Public Health researcher indicates that waxing skis and snowboards for recreational use maypose a significant risk of exposure to PFAS and other environmental contaminants.
Published in the journal Environmental Research, the study found that most skiers and snowboarders in the United States apply fluorinated waxes that contain PFAS to their equipment, often multiple time each year, and over many years—and that protective equipment is not widely used. Known as “forever chemicals” because they are difficult to break down, PFAS are linked to a number of health conditions, including increased cholesterol levels, cancer, liver damage, thyroid disease, decreased vaccine response, and developmental and reproductive complications.
The findings suggest that targeted educational initiatives are needed to encourage US winter sport participants to adopt protective measures that can reduce their exposure to these harmful waxes.
“Educational awareness about the health risks of PFAS in our bodies and in our environment would help reduce use and, thus, help reduce exposure,” says study senior author Birgit Claus Henn, associate professor of environmental health. “I also think this could help motivate participants of the sports to continue to seek safety measures and to exert pressure on the waxing industry for hopefully safer alternatives.”
For the study, Claus Henn and colleagues surveyed 569 members of the US ski and snowboard community about their wax use and/or exposure. The group included people who engaged directly and indirectly in recreational or professional cross-country and downhill skiing or snowboarding—i.e. coaches, technicians, current and former athletes, current and former industry professionals, and family members or friends of current or former participants.
About 92 percent of people surveyed reported that they used some form of wax, 67 percent used PFAS-containing waxes, and 62 percent also used solvents for ski base cleaning. Wax was most commonly used among cross-country skiers, followed by downhill skiers and then snowboarders. Cross-country skiers used personal protective equipment and worked in ventilated spaces more than the other athletes, but overall, the majority of athletes did not adopt these measures.
The intensity with which skiers and snowboarders apply wax, coupled with long-term and frequent use of wax, places these athletes at a heightened risk of exposure to PFAS. These chemicals are already present in drinking water and numerous consumer products, so any additional exposures are concerning, the researchers say.
The ski and snowboarding industries are slowly adopting safety measures to reduce this exposure, such as restricting fluorinated waxes or developing non-fluorinated alternatives. The famed ski town of Park City, Utah recently banned fluorinated wax after PFAS were found in groundwater wells. But educational awareness and outreach about these waxes are still critical, says Claus Henn.
“I am encouraged by the industry’s plans to shift away from fluorinated waxes and by the banning of fluorinated ski waxes in competition—however, this doesn’t mean exposure to PFAS from ski wax will cease right away,” she says. “Even following this shift or ban, it is likely that individuals will use up the wax that remains on our shelves, and residual contamination of dusts, for example, in environments where waxing was conducted is likely.”
In the future, Claus Henn will work with SPH alum Kate Crawford (SPH’18), assistant professor of environmental studies at Middlebury College, on a study to measure to measure PFAS in dust wipes from waxing spaces and compare levels before and after the ban of fluorinated waxes from collegiate competition.
“We’ll need to keep an eye on chemical substitution,” says Claus Henn. “What is the composition of newer alternatives? Also, how do we properly dispose of the waxes containing these often highly persistent chemicals?”
I use FastStik – https://faststik.com/ !
It’s awesome and ECO friendly!
Does anyone look at the amount of grease and oil deposited on the ground from cars, ski lifts, and groomers? How about boat wax with PFTE? Let’s target areas that really make a difference to our environment. I agree that burning ski waxes with an iron and sucking in the fumes can’t be good for you. Most ski shops are not properly ventilated. Also, scraping 70-80% of wax product of hot waxes skis and boards and throwing it in our landfills can’t be good.
What was wax composition for skis in 1950s? Swix was popular then. Was that safe by today’s standards? Because I’m still here doesn’t mean we can ignore facts…jp.. me jaguar paw
It was about 1988 when SkiGo introduced a XC ski glider wax we used at a regional college race in Truckee in the rain. Ski Go pink. It was amazing, but the downside was kept out of the news for another 15 years. No mention of the DuPont PFAS in its ingredients, mixed into the traditional paraffins used for many years before. Swix was introducing Cera F, a powder that had to smoke to be applied correctly. No warnings, just marketed as fast and even then cost about $20 per wax job on skinny Nordic skis. We banned waxes with PFAS 4 years ago at our ski area in British Columbia, Valhalla Hills Nordic. No other ski areas in BC have taken that step yet. It is baffling how resistant people are to an obvious hazard. I am waiting for the first class action lawsuits!
This is exactly why I switched to use mountainflow eco wax.