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Skiers are spreading PFAS 'forever chemicals' around the world’s mountains

A new study reveals the presence of hazardous PFAS chemicals in the soils of ski mountains around the world, a discovery that has significant implications for both the environment and public health.

This disturbing research was conducted by The James Hutton Institute in Aberdeen and the University of Graz, unveiling a concerning environmental issue plaguing popular skiing destinations.

Prevalence of PFAS in ski mountains

PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are a group of human-made chemicals known for their persistence in the environment and in human bodies, hence their nickname “forever chemicals.”

These substances, commonly found in ski wax, have been detected in alarmingly high concentrations in the soils of family-friendly skiing areas.

The levels measured starkly contrast with those in non-skiing regions, highlighting the direct impact of skiing activities on environmental contamination.

Viktoria Müller, leading the study as part of her Ph.D. research at the University of Graz, states, “These chemicals are called forever chemicals because they take hundreds of years to break down. Their potential to accumulate or spread, including into groundwater systems, is our main concern.”

Health concerns and regulatory actions

The revelation of PFAS in ski mountains comes in the wake of a recent ban on PFAS-containing ski waxes in professional skiing due to their association with serious health issues such as cancer, fertility problems, and liver damage. This study underscores the urgency of this ban.

Despite the prohibition, Müller notes, “Even where there is no skiing, there are still small detections because of how widely this chemical has now spread in the environment.”

The research team examined about 30 PFAS compounds expected in ski wax and tested six commercially available waxes bought before the ban.

Five of these contained fluorinated compounds, reflecting the widespread use of PFAS in ski products.

Widespread nature of PFAS

The enforcement of the ban on PFAS waxes has been challenging. International skiing bodies only recently started implementing it in events, owing to the time required to develop effective testing methods.

A notable case involved a two-time Olympic medalist disqualified for using PFAS-laden skis during the Alpine World Cup in Austria.

PFAS chemicals, first synthesized in the 1940s, are found in various household items, from non-stick cookware to waterproof clothing.

Their ability to travel through the atmosphere has led to global contamination, with recent studies finding PFAS in unexpected places like bottled water.

Current action and future research

The health risks associated with PFAS have prompted calls for broader bans and ongoing research into safer alternatives.

As these efforts continue, the skiing community and the public at large face the challenge of addressing the environmental impact of these persistent chemicals.

In summary, the study by The James Hutton Institute and the University of Graz highlights a critical environmental issue within popular skiing destinations.

It brings to light the urgent need for effective regulation and the development of eco-friendly alternatives to protect both our health and the environment from the insidious spread of PFAS chemicals.

More about PFAS and ski mountains

As discussed above, Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) have emerged as a significant environmental concern.

These synthetic chemicals, widely used for their water and stain-resistant properties, present a formidable challenge due to their persistence in the environment and potential health risks.

What are PFAS?

PFAS are a large family of over 12,000 human-made chemicals, first developed in the 1940s. They have found applications in numerous everyday products, including non-stick cookware, waterproof clothing, and firefighting foams.

Their unique molecular structure, which resists heat, water, and oil, has made them popular in various industries.

Protecting ski mountains from PFAS

The most alarming characteristic of PFAS is their persistence. These chemicals do not break down easily in the environment, earning them the nickname “forever chemicals.”

Once PFAS enter the ski mountain ecosystems, they remain for an extended period, accumulating in soil, water, and living organisms.

Health studies link PFAS exposure to several serious health issues. These include increased cancer risk, immune system disorders, and developmental problems in children.

As PFAS accumulate in the human body over time, their potential health impacts become a growing concern.

Regulatory actions and public response

Governments and environmental agencies worldwide have started to take notice of the PFAS problem. Several countries have begun regulating the use of PFAS, and research is underway to find safer alternatives.

In some cases, this has led to bans on specific PFAS compounds, especially in consumer products and industrial applications.

The public has also become increasingly aware of PFAS risks. Consumer demand for PFAS-free products is rising, prompting companies to reformulate their products and seek out safer alternatives.

The path forward

Efforts to combat the PFAS challenge involve a multi-faceted approach. This includes developing effective cleanup methods for contaminated sites, researching biodegradable alternatives, and enforcing stricter regulations on PFAS use and disposal.

As we gain a deeper understanding of PFAS and their impact, it becomes clear that proactive measures are essential to safeguard both the environment and public health from these persistent chemicals.

In summary, PFAS chemicals, both on ski mountains and every other region of the world, represent a complex environmental issue that requires immediate attention.

By taking concerted actions across government, industry, and the public, we can mitigate the risks associated with these “forever chemicals” and work towards a safer, healthier environment.

The work is published in the journal Environmental Science: Processes & Impacts.


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