Wax on, wax off

Skiers and snowboarders are most likely thinking about speed, not chemicals, when they coat their skis with wax. But new research suggests ski wax may expose users to perfluorochemicals (PFCs), which are linked to heart disease, liver damage, hormone disruption and cancer.

Studies conducted in Sweden and Norway found that wax technicians working for World Cup ski race teams had levels of PFCs in their blood that were 45 times higher than the general public’s. The chemicals were also found to bioaccumulate in the technicians’ bodies—with higher levels found in those with more years of exposure. Environmental Health News describes the process the technicians in the studies used: Hot irons were applied to melt layers of wax onto skis. Then they ironed the waxed surface to make it stick before scraping it smooth. This produced fumes, dust and airborne wax particles that the technicians inhaled for about 30 hours a week during the races.

PFCs keep things from sticking, so they’re commonly found in non-stick cookware, stain-resistant furnishings and water-repellent clothes. They don’t break down naturally in the environment—so they remain after rubbing off in the snow—and they’ve been found in nearly everyone examined by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Research on PFC exposure is still in its infancy, and ski wax manufacturers don’t disclose the chemical composition of their products, though the Norway researchers found it in every wax they analyzed.

In the meantime, lead author Helena Nilsson said people who only wax one or two pairs of skis shouldn’t worry much. For others, she recommends making sure the room is ventilated when applying the wax, and wearing a respirator with a filter.