Famed ski area Park City has chosen to ban ski wax containing toxic ‘forever chemicals’ after contaminants were discovered in local drinking water.
The ban in the small Utah city – just east of Salt Lake City – applies to fluorinated wax, also known as ‘fluro-wax’, which reduces the friction between the surface of the ski base and the snow. This increases speed and makes turns smoother.
Forever chemicals, known as PFAS, are a class of synthetic compounds that don’t break down when released into the environment. They are found on many household goods, such as non-stick pans, food packaging and stain-resistant gear.
These chemicals have been linked to kidney and liver damage, cancers, fertility problems, and thyroid issues. Federal officials are set to crack down on their prevalence in drinking water in the coming weeks.
It has been long known these chemicals are in fluro-wax, but concerns were raised when they were found to be contaminating the city’s drinking water last June.
Ski wax industry leader SWIX ceased including harmful PFAS in its waxes as of 2021 so as to be in compliance with the ban for the 2021-2022 season set in place by the International Ski Federation and U.S. Ski & Snowboard and the Canadian Ski Association
Park City caters to recreational skiers as well as competitive skiers and contains several training courses for the U.S. Ski Team,
Park City’s Recycle Utah and representatives at the White Pine Touring Center are encouraging skiers to drop off their contaminated ski waxes for disposal.
The move to ban fluro-wax is not unprecedented. Preeminent racing organizations have already taken steps to phase out the use of problematic chemicals in ski wax.
The International Ski Federation and US Ski & Snowboard and the Canadian Ski Association banned many fluorinated waxes ahead of the 2021 season.
It was also banned at the 2022 Beijing Olympic Games last year.
The wax hit shelves more than 30 years ago and was unparalleled in its ability to turbocharge cross-country and alpine skiing.
Ski wax cuts friction between the skis and the snow, which slows the skier down.
After PFAS was found in Park City’s groundwater last year, officials said they would soon move to protect the local community.
Michelle de Haan, the city’s water quality and treatment manager, told Fox13: ‘There’s a lot of environmentally-conscious people here and we want to do everything we can to try and remove that substance from the environment.’
PFAS are a class of about 12,000 man made chemicals that have been used in industry and consumer products worldwide since the 1940s.
They are specifically used to make products resistant to heat, water, and stains.
A 2021 review by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported a host of severe health effects related to PFAS exposure such as elevated cholesterol levels, kidney or testicular cancer, high blood pressure or pregnancy complications, liver damage, and fertility problems.
These dangerous chemicals in the wax linger in the snow well after a skier finishes their race, and remain in the environment beyond ski season.
In 2020, researchers from Colby College in Waterville, Maine, found ‘extremely high contamination’ in the snow near the starting line of a local collegiate race.
The scientists returned the following spring – when the snow used for skiing had all melted – and found PFAS in nearby soil and groundwater.
The 35 parts per trillion (ppt) of PFAS found by the Maine team is half of the 70ppt maximum recommended by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
These waxes pose a threat to people who work directly with them too.
A Swedish research team found in 2010 that ski wax technicians – who apply the product for professional skiers – had elevated levels in their blood.
But, many experts believe this limit is set way to high, and the EPA is expected to significantly reduce the bar.
This is because of the growing body of research linking the PFAS found in many household products to devastating diseases.
The EPA has cracked down on ski wax in recent years, requiring manufacturers to notify the agency of how much PFAS it uses in their products and how it plans to ensure it does not seep into the environment.
This has significantly reduced the number of ski waxes on the market using PFAS.
It issued a warning early last year that many firms were still not complying with these guidelines, citing two in particular that received discipline.
SWIX, a Norwegian industry leader, was slapped with a $375,000 fine by the EPA after its wax products were found to contain excessive PFAS levels.
The firm was also forced to invest $1million in education programs about unsafe chemicals in ski waxes.
TASR, which operates ski stores in Maine, settled a complaint filed against it by the EPA for importing chemicals without authorization.
In Park City, representatives are encouraging skiers to drop off their contaminated ski waxes for disposal.
Carolyn Wawra, the executive director of Recycle Utah said: ‘Something like ski wax, it is so nasty. The end of the story is just incineration. So far this season I’d say it’s about 80 pounds of wax so far.’
It is unclear how Park City expects to enforce this ban.