Ski wax use contributes to environmental contamination by per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances
By Gail L. Carlson & Skylar Tupper
August 31, 2020
Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are used in a wide variety of consumer products, including ski waxes, and are widespread persistent and hazardous environmental contaminants. We examined the environmental impact of ski wax use at an outdoor recreation area with significant cross-country ski activity by measuring PFAS levels in melted snow, soil and water following a collegiate ski race. We found extremely high levels of long- and short-chain PFAS (C4-C14) contamination in snow at the race start line (∑[PFAS] 7,600-10,700 ng/l), with the longer-chain analytes (C10-C14) predominating. The complement of 14 PFAS detected in snow matched what has been found in ski wax. This snow contamination was greatly reduced at a point 3.9 km into the race. Soil at the start line contained the four most predominant PFAS in snow at a mean individual concentration of 2.81 ng/g dry weight. Control soil contained only perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS), not found in other soil samples, at a concentration of 2.80 ng/g. Shallow groundwater from an on-site well contained only the shorter-chain PFAS (C4-C8), with a mean individual concentration of 4.95 ng/l. Our results suggest that ski wax use, from which fluorocarbons abrade at very high levels onto snow during a ski race, are the main source of PFAS contamination at our site. Regulation of ski wax use is warranted to reduce PFAS pollution.