Famous Park City ski resort has chosen to ban ski wax containing toxic “forever chemicals” after contaminants were discovered in local drinking water.
The ban in the small Utah town – just east of Salt Lake City – applies to fluorinated wax, also known as “fluro-wax,” which reduces 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 do not break down when released into the environment. They can be found on many household items, such as non-stick pans, food packaging, and stain-resistant equipment.
These chemicals have been linked to kidney and liver damage, cancer, fertility problems and thyroid problems. Federal officials will crack down on their prevalence in drinking water in the coming weeks.
These chemicals have long been known to be in fluorine wax, but concerns arose when they were discovered last June to contaminate the city’s drinking water.
SWIX, the leader in ski wax, stopped including harmful PFAS in its waxes from 2021 to comply with the 2021-2022 season ban set by the International Ski Federation and US Ski & Snowboard and Canadian Ski Association
Park City caters to both recreational and competitive skiers and includes several training courses for the US Ski Team,
Park City’s Recycle Utah and White Pine Touring Center representatives are encouraging skiers to return their contaminated ski wax for disposal.
The step to ban fluorine wax is not unprecedented. Leading 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 Canadian Ski Association have banned many fluorinated waxes leading up to the 2021 season.
It was also banned at the 2022 Beijing Olympics last year.
The wax hit the shelves more than 30 years ago and was unparalleled in its ability to boost cross-country and downhill skiing.
Ski wax reduces the 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 move quickly to protect the local community.
Michelle de Haan, manager of the city’s water quality and purification, explained fox13: ‘There are many environmentally conscious people here and we want to do everything we can to remove that substance from the environment.’
PFAS are a class of approximately 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 judgement by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported a variety of serious health effects associated with exposure to PFAS, such as elevated cholesterol levels, kidney or testicular cancer, high blood pressure or pregnancy complications, liver damage, and fertility problems.
These dangerous wax chemicals linger in the snow long after a skier finishes their race and remain in the environment after the ski season.
In 2020, researchers at Colby College in Waterville, Maine, found, 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 completely 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 70 ppt maximum recommended by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
These waxes also pose a threat to people who work directly with them.
A Swedish research team found in 2010 that ski wax technicians – who use the product for professional skiers – had elevated levels in their blood.
But many experts believe that this limit is way too high and the EPA is expected to lower the bar significantly.
This is due to the growing body of research linking the PFAS found in many household products to devastating diseases.
The EPA has been cracking down on ski wax in recent years, requiring manufacturers to inform the agency about how much PFAS it uses in their products and how it plans to ensure it doesn’t seep into the environment.
This has significantly reduced the number of ski waxes on the market containing PFAS.
It warned early last year that many companies were still not complying with these guidelines, citing two in particular that faced disciplinary action.
SWIX, a Norwegian market leader, was fined $375,000 by the EPA after its laundry products were found to contain excessive levels of PFAS.
The company was also forced to invest $1 million in education programs about unsafe chemicals in ski wax.
TASR, which operates ski shops in Maine, settled a complaint filed against it by the EPA for importing chemicals without authorization.
In Park City, representatives are encouraging skiers to hand in their contaminated ski wax for disposal.
Carolyn Wawra, Executive Director of Recycle Utah said: ‘Something like ski wax, that’s so nasty. The end of the story is just combustion. So far this season I’d say it’s been about 80 pounds so far.”
It’s unclear how Park City expects to enforce this ban.