Toxic ski and snowboard waxes pose both human health and environmental hazards. The most hazardous ingredient found in toxic 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 which has been fully or partially fluorinated. Therefore, the terms “PFC” and “fluorocarbon” are often used interchangeably.
Fluorinated ski waxes (fluoros) are, thus far, the most durable and hydrophobic. The more hydrophobic a wax is, the better water repellency it has. It is well known that, in skiing, fluoros achieve the best times for racers. 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 sever 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 snowpack. In the spring, the toxins left by fluorinated waxes are carried down to watersheds 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.
How many skiers does it take? Well, if one skier calculates how much wax he actually uses and leaves behind on the mountain over a season, it may not amount to much. However, it is the collective impact that is the problem. 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 snowpack for 30 years in the United States alone.
As the hazards of toxic waxes become more well known, conscientious skiers and snowboarders are becoming increasingly motivated to seek out non-toxic wax sources. Glide-on is one such alternative. Rather than toxic chemicals, Glide-on has an inert (environmentally neutral) polymer added that enhances its durability, speed and base protection. So you don’t have to sacrifice performance for non-toxic. At Glide-on, we are proud to provide an excellent alternative to toxic ski waxes and we believe this will be the way of the future.