Skiers chasing smoother runs 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 resorts.
While wax containing PFAS reduces friction between snow and skis, experts from The James Hutton Institute in Aberdeen and the University of Graz in Austria warn it could also be creating a dangerous hazard.
These chemicals have been linked with cancer, thyroid disease, fertility issues, and liver damage.
Viktoria Müller, of James Hutton Institute, says: ‘These chemicals are called forever chemicals because they will need hundreds of years to break down.’
Scientists say that skiers looking for a slicker ride may be leaving behind a trail of toxic ‘forever chemicals’ from the wax used on their skis (stock image)
The researchers collected snow and soil samples from family skiing spots in the Austrian Alps as well as six commercially available ski waxes.
These samples were then tested 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 far higher levels than in areas not normally used for skiing.
Likewise, five out of the six ski waxes tested contained high levels of PFAS, despite these compounds having been recently banned in professional skiing events.
Ms Müller says: ‘While there has been concern about the use of PFAS in ski wax for some time, this study on Alpine ski slopes showed that skiing will produce orders of magnitude higher concentrations of PFAS onto anywhere skiing is taking place where these types of wax are used.’
However, the more concerning 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, Ms Müller and her co-authors explain that as the snow melts it carries 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 toxic PFAS chemicals
This allows PFAS to build up in the soil across the entire area or even potentially enter the groundwater.
Ms Müller says: ‘Even where there is no skiing, there are still small detections because of how widely this chemical has now spread in the environment.’
PFAS are a group of 12,000 widely used manmade chemicals which can be found in everything from non-stick pans to waterproof jackets.
Bans on PFAS-containing waxes are in place for several skiing competitions, but a lack of viable testing methods means that 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 in use since the 1940s but there is mounting evidence that these chemicals can be extremely harmful to humans.
One recent study conducted at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York suggested that PFAS raise the risk of thyroid cancer by 56 per cent.
Norwegian skier Ragnhild Mowinckel (pictured) became the first professional to ever be disqualified for excess levels of PFAS in her wax during the Alpine World Cup last November
Previous research has also linked exposure to PFAS to infertility, birth defects, and problems with the immune system.
Due to the fact that PFAS do not break down naturally over time, they have been found in almost every possible location.
Studies have identified PFAS in sea foam, bottled water, and even in human blood.
The US Geological Survey has even concluded that 45 per cent of all American water sources now contain PFAS.
This has led to some experts calling for a ban on the use of the chemicals until an alternative is found that can break down more easily.
In the UK, Environment Secretary Therese Coffey recently unveiled plans to reduce the use of PFAS in non-stick cooking pans.