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Toxic chemicals - even in ski resorts

Jul 22, 2024 / Anna Mehrmann, CIPRA International
Anoraks, climbing ropes, ski wax: many outdoor products contain persistent chemicals (PFAS). A recent study shows their worldwide distribution, with ski resorts in the Alps particularly affected.
Image caption:
Toxic chemical compounds can also be found in ski wax. (c) Yelizaveta Toasshevska_Canva

Some can be toxic to humans and nature: so-called perpetuating chemicals, or PFAS (per- and polyfluorinated alkyl compounds) in the technical jargon, are chemical compounds that are difficult to break down and accumulate in the environment and the human body. Industries use them primarily because of their water- and grease-repellent properties. Studies have shown that certain PFAS are toxic to humans and the environment. However, as we are talking about a whole group of different chemical compounds, it is hard to prove the toxicity of all of them and thus set limit values.

A recent Australian study shows where PFAS are present in water bodies and groundwater around the world. Alpine countries are also affected. The drinking water in Rumilly/F was analysed back in 2022 and found to contain elevated concentrations. As a result, the municipality had to plan for a drinking water treatment plant costing millions. A pilot study from Switzerland shows that, although PFAS are less common in the Alps than in heavily populated areas, chemicals still leave their mark on the mountains. High concentrations can occur in ski resorts in particular, presumably due to the use of ski wax. A research team from Graz/A has also measured various PFAS compounds in Styrian ski resorts.

In order to curb the release of PFAS, authorities from five EU countries have submitted a proposal for restrictions on their use. Together with the EU member states, the European Commission will decide whether and how this will be introduced. Outdoor brands such as VAUDE support the ban and already offer PFAS-free alternatives. Furthermore, since the 2023-24 winter season ski wax containing PFAS has been banned in several professional ski competitions.


Sources and further information: (de), (en), (fr), (fr), (de), (de), (de), (de), (de)

Filed under: alpMedia 3/2024