Skiers seeking softer slopes are leaving behind a trail of toxic “forever chemicals,” a new study has revealed.
Scientists found high levels of PFAS chemicals commonly used in ski wax in the snow and soil of Austrian ski resorts.
While PFAS-containing wax reduces friction between snow and skis, experts at the James Hutton Institute in Aberdeen and the University of Graz in Austria warn that it could also be creating a dangerous hazard.
These chemicals have been linked to cancer, thyroid disease, fertility problems, and liver damage.
Viktoria Müller of the James Hutton Institute says: “These chemicals are called forever chemicals because they will take hundreds of years to decompose.”
Scientists say skiers seeking a slicker ride may be leaving a trail of toxic “forever chemicals” from the wax used on their skis (file image)
The researchers collected snow and soil samples from familiar ski spots in the Austrian Alps, as well as six commercially available ski waxes.
These samples were then analyzed for 30 of the most common per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, also called PFAS, found in ski wax.
Testing revealed that 14 different types of PFAS were found at much higher levels than in areas not typically used for skiing.
Additionally, five of the six ski waxes tested contained high levels of PFAS, even though these compounds had recently been banned in professional ski events.
Ms Müller says: “Although there has long been concern about the use of PFAS in ski wax, this study on alpine ski slopes showed that skiing will produce much higher concentrations of PFAS wherever skiing is practiced where This type of wax is used.
However, the most worrying discovery was that there were higher than normal concentrations of PFAS in areas that were not even used for skiing.
In the paper, published in Environmental Science, Müller and his co-authors explain that as snow melts, it transports the chemicals downhill to a much wider area.
Skiers apply wax to their skis to reduce friction, but researchers found that five out of six commercial ski waxes tested contained high levels of the toxic PFAS chemicals.
This allows PFAS to accumulate in soil throughout the area or even potentially enter groundwater.
Ms Müller says: “Even where skiing is not possible, small detections still occur due to the widespread diffusion of this chemical in the environment.”
PFAS are a group of 12,000 widely used synthetic chemicals that can be found in everything from nonstick pans to waterproof jackets.
Bans on PFAS-containing waxes exist for several ski competitions, but the lack of viable testing methods means their enforcement has only just begun.
In November, Norway’s Ragnhild Mowinckel became the first professional skier to be disqualified for having PFAS in her ski wax during the Alpine World Cup in Austria.
These chemicals have been used since the 1940s, but there is growing evidence that they can be extremely harmful to humans.
A recent study conducted at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York suggested that PFAS increase the risk of thyroid cancer by 56 percent.
Norwegian skier Ragnhild Mowinckel (pictured) became the first professional to be disqualified for excessive levels of PFAS in her wax during the Alpine World Cup last November.
Previous research has also linked PFAS exposure to infertility, birth defects and problems with the immune system.
Because PFAS do not break down naturally over time, they have been found in almost every place possible.
Studies have identified PFAS in sea foam, bottled water, and even human blood.
The US Geological Survey has even concluded that 45 percent of all US water sources now contain PFAS.
This has led some experts to call for a ban on the use of these chemicals until an alternative is found that can break down more easily.
In the UK, Environment Secretary Therese Coffey recently revealed plans to reduce the use of PFAS in non-stick pans.