In the past twenty years, controversy has arisen surrounding the environmental and health dangers of ski wax containing fluorocarbons. Fluorocarbon wax was believed for years to be an inert particle, one that does not pose a major threat to the human body or to the environment. However, recent studies suggest that the particles found in wax can actually break down during the application process. The result is a smaller molecule, one that the human body struggles to break filter out from the air.
This creates the first issue of using fluorocarbon ski wax when preparing ski and snowboard equipment for use. The applicator of the wax puts himself in a potentially dangerous situation, especially if the work area is not well-ventilated. When the particles of the wax are broken down into smaller microbes as a result of overheating, the air becomes contaminated with particles too small to be filtered by the lungs. Studies show that elevated perfluorocarboxylate levels exist in humans that frequently use fluorocarbon ski wax (112 ng/mL compared to 2.5 ng/mL). Any particles that are not released into the air remain on the base of the ski or snowboard.
The particles remaining on the base of the ski or board are then transported to the mountain. When the equipment glides over the ground the snow underneath temporarily melts, creating a water surface. In the process, the small microbes transfer from the base of the ski or board into the water, and then refreeze in the snow. They remain on the mountain for the next few months, as the concentration increases as more riders visit the resort. As the weather gets warmer, the contaminated snow from the ski slopes melts and the water flows downhill. The microbes remain the water, and are responsible for significantly higher fluorocarbon content in rivers and lakes in close proximity to ski resorts.
Popular ski wax brands, such as Swix and Dominator, have published responses to these arguments against the fluorocarbon waxes. Instead of developing waxes containing safer chemicals with similar water-repellency properties, they have released articles that explain how to correctly use the wax. These articles state that the application process should take place in an area with very effective ventilation, and the user should always wear a mask. Using chemicals that require a mask does not seem safe for the average consumer. Additionally, this does not deal with the environmental issue at hand.
Even if the user is protected from the potentially dangerous release of toxic particles, they still find their way into the snow and eventually into the streams. The fish and other animals living in the environment cannot simply put on a respirator to protect themselves from overexposure to chemicals not occurring naturally in their living space. Therefore, the response to the problem at hand isn’t correctly applying the wax, but instead switching to an environmentally friendly wax solution that promotes sustainable, biodegradable compounds not derived from petroleum by-products containing fluorocarbons.