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Toxins on the slopes

Every season, thousands upon thousands of kilograms of ski wax are applied to skis and snowboards. Beeswax, pine tar, the natural materials once used to wax or seal skis have long since fallen by the wayside. Nowadays, conventional ski wax is made from varying blends of low-grade paraffin and synthetic fluorine chemicals, and therein lurks the problem.

Paraffin wax is a waste byproduct of large scale petroleum and petrochemical refinement. The low-grade paraffin used by ski wax makers is junk material to Big Oil, the unwanted materials made incredibly cheap to purchase.

As such, paraffin is non-renewable, unsustainable, and is a material directly related to the continued abuse and reliance upon fossil fuels. The melting and pyrolysis of paraffin (as in hot-waxing) has also been found to release several hazardous chemicals including benzene and toluene, both of which are classified as human carcinogens by Health Canada.

Worse than low-grade hydrocarbons like paraffin, though, are PFCs (known as perfluorocompounds/perfluorochemicals) and FTOHs (fluorotelomers). These man-made synthetic chemicals are highly persistent, PFCs lasting 3200-50,000 years in the environment. Their manufacture (as is the case with PTFE/Teflon) necessitates the use of carboxylic acids like PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid), a chemical that has been shown to cause birth defects, cancer, elevated risk of heart problems, and widespread blood contamination.

More than 92% of North Americans have PFOA or related PFC pollutants in their blood, with concentrations often highest in children. The chemicals are bio-accumulative, and are now suspected of being acutely toxic even in low concentrations. Many FTOHs and PFCs have also been shown to break down or off-gas fluorinated pollutants once they have reached the marketplace in consumer products.

The implications for the ski industry are obvious. By utilizing PTFE powders, liquid Teflon sprays, so-called “fluorinated waxes” and fluorotelomer lubricants and waxes, conventional ski wax companies and unwittingly complicit end-users expose tuning staff, home-tuners, and the environment to hazardous toxins.

From base chemical manufacture to ski wax modification, then onto application and deposition, numerous exposure points highlight the need to adopt safer alternatives. These chemicals have no place in our tuning shops, on our hills, in the snow pack, our water or blood. Safer, environmentally friendly alternatives now exist. We encourage you to learn more.

Tyler Bradley

Other sources of information:
>> MAGIC POTION - A manufacturer of Eco Friendly Wax for Ski and Snowboard
>> An Environmental Working Group report on PFCs
>> Environmental Defence study on toxins in Canadians
>> Friends of Norway study on fluorinated pollutants in all-weather clothing
>> CBC piece on PFCs

Biodegradable Wax - Magic Potion
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