Photo by bobaliciouslondon via Flickr.com.
Guest bloggers Andrea Donsky and Randy Boyer are co-founders of NaturallySavvy.com.
We're in the thick of ski and snowboard season, and if you've been hitting the slopes a lot, you've probably had to wax your skis or board at least once. But have you thought about the hazards of the chemicals in your ski wax?
Many high-performance ski waxes used by the pros contain high amounts of perfluorochemicals, or PFCs, and cheaper products used by avid recreational skiers often contain PFCs in lower concentrations. These are the chemicals used in non-stick cookware that have been linked to a number of health issues. While more research is needed, when it comes to our friends who ski a lot, we prefer to take the "better safe than sorry" approach to chemical risk.The Bad News
PFCs have understandably come under fire for being a potentially serious health concern. One study showed PFCs altered the liver and spleen of rabbits, as well as other less severe changes in the lung and kidney, and found that the PFC particles were retained in vital organs.
Another study involving pregnant rats and mice found PFCs were toxic to the mother, and that the offspring showed developmental problems, including birth defects such as heart defects and swelling of the skin.
It should be noted that in 2006 the EPA concluded that more research is needed before any conclusions can be made about the risks of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), a specific type of PFC. However, the EPA Web page on PFOA also states that the chemical "is very persistent in the environment" and "remains in people for a very long time."
PFC Hits Your Blood
Two studies out of Sweden have shown that ski technicians are at risk of highly elevated PFC levels in their blood, and that is cause for concern.
The first study tested perfluorocarboxylate (PFCA) blood levels in eight ski wax technicians before, during, and after the 2007/2008 ski season, and researchers found that the median blood level for PFOA was almost 45 times that of the general population (112 ng/mL compared to 2.5 ng/mL). What's more, it appears that there is a correlation between the levels of perfluorocarboxylates in the blood and the number of years working as a ski wax technician.
A follow-up study examining chemicals in the air of the breathing zone of ski wax technicians found that fluorotelomer alcohols (FTOH) - which are a type of PFC that degrade and form PFOA - were 800 times the levels of airborne PFOA. This suggests that biotransformation of FTOH results in internal exposure of PFOA.
While PFCs may pose a risk to human health, they also threaten wildlife. PFCs have been found in the blood of fish, bald eagles and mink, according to the Minnesota Department of Health.
How? Because PFCs are very stable, they don't break down in soil, sediment or groundwater, so any PFC entering the environment will stick around for a long time. That means that any PFC from ski wax that is transferred to the snow surface will probably end up in soil and water sources. Bad news for animals.
The Good News
While PFC-containing ski waxes are coming under fire, there is a silver lining: It might just help raise the profile of PFC-free ski waxes.
Because most companies that produce PFC-free waxes are environmentally conscious, a lot of these products are also petroleum-free and 100 percent natural. We love how green they are - especially when you consider they are in direct contact with nature.
Greenwax is perhaps the most recognizable PFC-free brand. With the tag line "Shred Lightly," Greenwax is embracing ski and eco culture, and their product is about as green as it gets: PFC- and petroleum-free, made with natural ingredients, completely biodegradable, and the packaging is recyclable.
The company's "Team Riders" are ambassadors for the brand, and they include: skiers Mathieu Hulliger and Tyler Snover, and snowboarders Hagen Kearney, Grant Bowen, Kiersten Edwards, and Benji Farrow, who placed fourth in the Half Pipe event at the recent Burton European Open, a World Snowboarding Tour event.
There are lots of other quality eco-friendly waxes out there: Purl waxes, Beaverwax products, Ethica Enviro-Wax and Hillbilly Snowboard Wax by Hillbilly Wax-Works, and Enviro Mountain Sports waxes are just a few of many.