DPS Phantom - A Greener and Healthier Ski Wax
Demystifying the harmful effects of
traditional ski wax
By Erme Catino
leaves have begun to change in the mountains, signaling the return to winter.
The cold crisp air coupled with the smells of autumn has pavlovian effects on
skiers, much like the scent of ski wax. Its aroma is almost sweet with the
promise of a deep winter.
ski wax’s history, a concoction of perfluorochemicals (PFCs) along with
volatile organic compounds, unfortunately has been at the detriment to the
environment and its applicator. Driven by ski racing—both alpine and
nordic—traditional ski wax’s damaging effects on humans and the environment are
rooted in its intrinsic chemical properties, interactions within the human body
(such as ski technicians), and response once un-leashed into the earth’s
In Traditional Ski Wax and How It’s Produced?
world of elite ski racing, waxing is cryptic. With Olympic and World Cup medals
typically on the line, master ski-tuners employ individualized and specialized
techniques to get their competitors across the finish line first.
in traditional ski waxes’ composition to be mysterious. However, in a study
published in 2010 from Environmental Science and Technology Nilsson et al.,
validated the bioaccumulation of PFCs in human blood samples and directly
correlated it to ski wax. PFCs are persistent chemicals that withstand
degradation in the environment and bioaccumulate in the blood and organs of
humans and animals .
et al. identified that, “fluorinated organic components are added to most glide
waxes due to their unique surfactant properties. The waxes create oil-and water
resistance to surfaces as well as preventing adhesion of snow, ice, and dirt
that slow down skis’ movement.” Further stating, “the exact composition of
fluorinated additives are rarely disclosed by producers… and waxes are
available in many different formulas to match the temperature and snow
concoction results in unstable chlorofluorocarbon functional groups, and when
coupled with additives to broaden the temperature range of ski wax, including
cancer causing chemicals and volatile organic compounds—acetone, benzene,
toluene, and chlorobenzene, the results can be catastrophic. Ski wax’s’
chemical attributes are scarily similar to those of a cancer causing cigarette,
with a manufacturing facility that harms the environment leaching PFCs into the
watershed and dispersing them throughout the ecosystem.
major culprits behind traditional ski wax and its harmful environmental
effects—both human and physical, are three fold.
acid (PFOA) and perflurooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS). According to a 2017 report from the Environmental Protection
Agency these two compounds had the highest production volumes in the United
States. In 2000, the company 3M, one of the principal perfluorochemical
manufacturers began phasing out PFOA, PFOS, and PFOS related compounds. However
the EPA has explained, “these chemicals may be persistent in the environment
and have a long half-life in humans, and may continue to persist in the
environment and in people for many years, despite reductions in emissions.” And
while US and Western Europe emissions have been reduced, a 2016 National
Toxicology Program report on exposure to PFOS and PFOA says it is unclear if
global production has changed [2, 9].
EPA has also stated that perflurocarbons have a very high global warming
potential due to their long atmospheric lifetimes with, “thousands of times
greater [potential] than carbon dioxide” .
(CFCs)—Jeff Bates, Assistant Professor and
Director of Education and Outreach in Materials Science and Engineering notes,
“there has been mention of CFCs in many ski waxes, but since the compositions
are trade secrets and/or patented, we are not sure [aside from a patent search
showing some aerosol waxes use chlorofluorocarbons] what the actual
is certain is that CFCs have been known and well documented to destroy Ozone in
the Earth’s atmosphere. Stratospheric ozone absorbs ultraviolet radiation that
otherwise would reach the surface of Earth. Molina & Rowland linked CFCs to
a depleting ozone layer in the Arctic in a landmark study in 1974 .
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)— During the waxing process, when heat
is applied to the bar of wax, VOCs are released into the air. In the study Airborne
Aerosols in Application of Polyfluro-Based Ski Waxes, Liesivuori et al.
found that eighty five percent of the aerosol was respirable, but the exposure
to flurocompounds was high enough to contribute to respiratory symptoms
experienced by ski-waxing technicians .
organic compounds also contribute to poor air quality. A study from The
University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of law by Arnold Reitze  showed,
“the quantity emitted [of secondary emissions in Utah] makes volatile organic
compounds (VOCs) and nitrogen oxides (NOx), important contributors to high
Particulate Matter (PM)2.5 concentrations. Sulfur oxides (SOx) also are
secondary contributors to PM2.5 formation.” PM2.5 pollution is a major air
quality issue worldwide, and in DPS’ home of Salt Lake City. Scientists have
linked exposure to high levels of PM2.5 to cardiovascular and lung diseases
including cancer and asthma .
ski wax and its array of harmful ingredients affect humans and the environment
through perfluorochemicals (PFCs) and other volatile organic compounds. These
compounds inflict harm in three primary ways: the inhalation of fumes caused by
ski waxing, the leaching of PFCs into the watershed, and the bioaccumulation of
PFCs in the blood stream.
National Toxicology Program report on Immunotoxicity Associated with Exposure
to PFCs explains PFOA and PFOS are an immune system health hazard. The report
notes, “both PFOA and PFOS are presumed to be an immune hazard to
humans based on a high level of evidence from animal studies that PFOA and
PFOS suppressed the antibody response and a moderate level of evidence from
studies in humans” .
there is no data correlating ski wax compounds from ski-resort snowpack run-off
and elevated levels of PFC in the watershed, a 2010 study examined
private drinking water wells as a source of exposure to PFOA in communities
surrounding a [DuPont] Fluropolymer Production Facility. In this study,
Hoffman, et al. discovered that in these Ohio and West Virginia communities,
the median blood PFOA concentration was 20 times higher than levels in the
general US population. They concluded, “PFOA-contaminated drinking water is a
significant contributor to PFOA levels in serum in the study population” .
their 2010 study, Nilsson, et al. followed eight Swedish and US national
cross-country ski wax technicians throughout the course of the year and
discovered PFOA, PFNA, PFDA, PFHpA, and PFUnDA to have “high bioaccumulation
potential [with] risk for increasing human body burdens of these
perflurorinated carboxylates upon continued lifestyle exposures as well as
occupational exposures” .
study has referenced that PFCs were ubiquitous in humans and had measurable
levels in the bloodstream of arctic mammals, ocean going birds, and other
species only found in remote locations far from human settlement. Most
importantly PFCs have been shown to bioaccumlate as they move through the ecosystem
Sustainable Alternative with DPS Phantom
growing concern of traditional wax and unappealing performance attributes from
soy based ski wax, DPS Phantom provides a safer alternative while allowing fast
riding skis and snowboards. Phantom has a different composition and mechanism,
while still keeping the favorable attributes of the harmful compounds in
traditional ski wax.
has hydrophobic functional groups as well as shape memory functional groups
that stabilize the temperature range for Phantom's performance,” explains
Bates. “It also includes a chemical that adheres the material to the
wax enters the ski base in a liquid phase [i.e. avoiding toxic fumes] and once
it has been absorbed into the ski base, a light activates a chemical in the
mixture resulting in polymerization of the compound. This polymerization leads
to conversion of double bonds into stable single bonds. Translation: Phantom is
chemically stable and non-reactive in the environment. And given the wax is
applied in a liquid state, it eliminates the inhalation injury caused by
traditional ski wax application as well shedding zero volatile organic
are becoming increasingly aware on their impact upon the environment. Between
fluctuating weather patterns and a warming planet, sustainability and its
activism has resonated with the outdoor community—especially one that is
heavily dependent on cooler climates. Given a new alternative to traditional
ski wax, a once necessary evil to slide properly on snow, Phantom provides a
cleaner and safer solution.