What are the toxins?
Toxic ski and snowboard waxes pose both human health and environmental hazards. The most toxic ingredient found in waxes are perfluorocarbons (PFCs). Perfluorocarbons are fully fluorinated compounds, synthetically produced by combining a hydrocarbon (like paraffin wax) with perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). The acid strips the hydrogen atoms off the carbon backbone and replaces them with fluorine atoms. The term “fluorocarbon” refers to any carbon-based molecule that has been fully or partially fluorinated. Therefore, the terms “PFC” and “fluorocarbon” are often used interchangeably.
What is the Risk?
Fluorinated ski waxes (fluoros) are, thus far, the most durable and hydrophobic (water repellent). It is well known that fluoros help racers achieve the best times. But what is less well known is that fluoros also have the highest health and environmental impact.
When fluorocarbons are exposed to high temperatures, toxic fumes are released. In ski and snowboard shops, technicians breathe these fumes. Prolonged exposure to the fumes of fluorocarbons is known to cause severe damage to respiratory passages, bloody noses, and increased levels of PFC in the blood. Some studies of such technicians have revealed PFC blood content levels up to 45% higher than the general population. PFC and PFOA are also known to be potent greenhouse gases.
The toxic impact of fluorinated waxes is further propagated when the wax is cast off from the base of skis and snowboards into the snow pack. In the spring, the toxins left by fluorinated waxes are carried down to the water table as non-biodegradable, environmentally hazardous molecules. PFC and PFOA remain in the environment as persistent organic pollutants, and are not known to degrade by any natural processes. Results of animal studies of PFOA indicate that it can cause several types of tumors, neonatal death, and may have toxic effects on the immune, liver, and endocrine systems.
What is the collective impact?
It may be more than you think. If one skier calculates how much wax he or she actually uses and leaves behind on the mountain over a season, it may not amount to much. However, according to the National Ski Areas Association, the 2007-2008 ski season had 60.1 million skier days at resorts in the US. They estimate that between 1979 and 2009, the US has had at least 50 million skier days each year. That results in more than 1.5 billion pairs of skis and snowboards shedding wax into the snow pack for 30 years in the United States alone. In addition, and perhaps more significantly, the wax shavings produced during tuning are discarded and end up in landfills.
As the hazards of toxic waxes become more widely known, environmentally conscience skiers and snowboarders are motivated to find non-toxic wax sources. Glide-on Wax is the alternative. Rather than toxic chemicals, Glide-on has an inert (environmentally neutral) plasticizer added that enhances its speed, durability, and base protection. At Glide-on, we are proud to provide an excellent alternative to toxic waxes and believe this will be the wave of the future.
Lin Alicia Martin (owner and creator of Glide-on Wax)