Is Ski Waxing Dangerous to Your Health?

In response to recent Norwegian TV, radio, and newspaper commentary, Swix Sport would like to respond to the subject of ski waxes being dangerous.

Concerns over the health effect of ski waxes is focused mostly on the high-volume users of ski wax such as ski factory and national team service technicians, coaches, and avid racers who prepare their own skis. It should be noted that this type of person is spending many hours, often in confined spaces, and that waxes from a number of manufacturers are used. The following comments are limited to just Swix products.

Since the 1980’s there has been considerable documentation presented in medical journals related to the potential hazards of working in the wax cabins. These studies coincided with the introduction of using pure per-fluorocarbons as ski wax. Also it was at this time that cross country skiing started using full-time service technicians as it had been in alpine skiing for many years.

In Norway, and most of Europe, a common set of EU rules regulated classification and labeling of dangerous chemicals. It should be stressed that all Swix products are up-to-date regarding these rules.

When Swix introduced CERA F (a pure per-fluorocarbon ski wax) in 1987/88 tests were made following standardized medical methods of analysis done by independent institutes in order to classify the product. There were examinations of oral toxicity and skin irritation using ISO-standard methods. The conclusions were unanimous that CERA F could be classified as NON TOXIC and NON IRRITANT.

The Equipment Committee under The International Ski Federation (FIS) wanted to perform their own examination of CERA F and to also investigate all potential health hazards involved in the process of ski waxing. Theoretical and experimental studies were done at Kassel University, Lehrstuhl fur Physikalishe Chemie. The conclusion of this examination was that CERA F could be considered as NON TOXIC and NON IRRITANT, as long as the product was not over heated.

It was found that CERA F and related fluorine material could breakdown into poisonous gases, among them perfluoroisobutylen, when temperatures exceeded 400-500ºC. This means that the product must not be exposed to any type of open flame. From the point of introduction of CERA F Swix has explicitly declared this warning on the labels, instructions, and in waxing manuals and catalogs, even setting a lower application limit of 300ºC. to be on the side of caution. It should be noted that polyethylene ski bases are permanently damaged at 170ºC.

The FIS Equipment Committee also made the recommendation for sufficient ventilation in waxing cabins.

The composition of CERA F has never been kept secret. Swix has repeatedly supplied full documentation, the most recent time during “Case 3/2004” treated by The Norwegian Complaint Court as established by The Department of Environment. For those who want detailed information about the production process, it can be found in the “Chemistry and Industry Journal”, August 4, 1986, pages 522-527.

When it comes to traditional glide wax products based upon petroleum waxes, no toxicity is documented. The burning of candles is a related case, however, and is well documented. A reference is “Studie zum Kerzenbrand”, SOFW Journal 16, 1994.

Swix also makes reference to the study “Eksponering för paraffinrök og deres medicinska effekter” Arbeidslivinstituter Umea, Sweden, 1990. This examination was not able to identify poisonous gases, but it did come back with explicit warnings related to industrial hygienic remedial actions. There is no question that professional service technicians staying unprotected many hours a day working in poorly ventilated cabins might feel uncomfortable. This is solely an industrial hygienic problem, mainly caused by air-borne wax particles that likely have become more pronounced by extensive use of mechanical roto-brushes during base preparation. Dust problems are commonly solved in other industries, and must be solved in the same professional manner in the ski and snowboard industry.

As a main supplier of ski waxes, Swix clearly has expressed the will to help identify all potential risks related to the use and application of our products. Swix has service technician teams of its own working during races in the same waxing cabins that some times lack proper ventilation. Of course, Swix wants to protect them in a professional way.

Lastly, Swix would like to draw attention to another problem that can exist in waxing cabins. This is the use of wax remover solvents. From time to time Swix has recognized different types of solvents being used as wax removers, often with good results, but unfortunately with a risk of health. Mainly these products are based on “high aromatic” hydrocarbons. Swix does not produce or sell these types of wax removers.

To day Swix has two wax removers, BASE CLEANER (“low aromatic”) and CITRUS SOLVENT (delta-limonene), both labeled according to the existing rules. If some are bothered by the smell of wax removers, it should be considered a reminder to have adequate ventilation.

In connection with large races, it should be possible to influence race organizers to supply wax cabins of adequate size, good ventilation, and safe electrical outlets. As well, suppliers of wax and base preparation products must provide appropriate product information to guard against misuse of the products. And, professional service people must take responsibility for their own protection to avoid open flames (cigarettes fall into this category), harmful solvents for wax removal, and wax dust from brushing bases.

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