Sustained Outrage

Study finds high C8 levels among ski wax technicans

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Italy’s Pietro Cottrer collapses on the finish line after winning a silver medal in the men’s cross-country15-kilometre free event at Whistler Olympic Park on Monday, February 15, 2010 at the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Winter Games in Whistler, British Columbia. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Andrew Vaughan)

When you’re enjoying more of the Winter Olympics in Vancouver this week, you might take a moment and think about the folks who are employed as ski wax technicians  …

There’s a new scientific study (Subscription required, but the free abstract is available here)  just out today that shows ski wax technicians have some very high levels of perfluorinated chemicals in their blood. The study by Swedish researchers was published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology.

The bottom line: Ski wax technicians who took part in the study had a median blood level of PFOA or C8 of 112 parts per billion. That’s nearly 45 times greater than the median blood level for the general Swedish population.

Here’s the introduction to the study:

Fluorinated ski waxes are applied to the skis’ soles by using heat of approximately 130-220 degrees C. During this process airborne particles and fumes containing a blend of gaseous organofluorine compounds are emitted. Inhalation of thermal degradation products from fluoropolymers could cause alveolic edma; polymer fume fever, informally called the Teflon flu; severe dyspnea; decreased pulmonary function; and respiratory distress syndrome.

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Switzerland’s Dario Cologna, left, and Italy’s Giorgio Di Centa ski on the finish straight during the Men’s 15k Cross Country race at the Vancouver 2010 Olympics in Whistler, British Columbia, Canada, Monday, Feb. 15, 2010. Cologna won the gold. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

The potential health impacts aren’t really anything new, and a quick glance shows how the ski industry has responded.

But this is the first study to examine PFC levels among ski wax technicians. Researchers took blood samples from eight technicians from the Swedish and U.S. national cross country ski teams during a 10-month period that included pre-season, the 2007-2008 World Cup competitions, and the subsequent unexposed five-month period.

The study concluded:

… We show that (Several PFCs) have high bio-accumulation potential and that there is a risk for increasing human body burdens of these … upon continued lifestyle exposures as well as occupational exposures. 

Levels may reach far above current background levels for the general population following continued exposure to high fluorinated consumer products. In future studies, we intend to make qualitative and quantitative assessment of the exposure to airborne fluorinated compounds released during waxing.

It also needs to be established if recreational skiers worldwide face increased health risks if exposed to fluorinated ski waxes but also how ski wax degradation products contribute to environmental pollution.