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Ban on fluorine waxes in ski sports demands effective test methods

26 November 2019, 15:08

Starting the winter season 2020 – 2021, the International Ski Federation, FIS, will introduce a total ban on fluorinated waxes in all ski disciplines. This means that the roadmap towards a PFAS-free competitive skiing, developed by 30 stakeholders from international skiing together with RISE and Peak Innovation, now can be enforced faster. Now it is important to develop an effective test method for detecting fluorine on the skis that can be used in major international competitions.

Within the project POPFREE Ski Goes Global, coordinated by RISE Research Institutes of Sweden and Peak Innovation, the goal was to initiate an international dialogue and pave the way for a global phase-out of PFAS-based skiing ramparts at all competition levels. Together with key players from skiing in Europe, activities and measures were identified that have been compiled in an action plan against PFAS-free competition skiing.

- By bringing all players together, coordinating the process and ensuring a fact-based background, the project has been a very important driver of the decision made by the FIS, said Vegard Ulvang, chair of the FIS cross-country committee and Olympic champion.

- The fact that a ban is instated earlier than estimated in the roadmap is very positive. The roadmap was rewarding for getting everyone on the track, and the work and activities identified in the roadmap will now be even more important to implement, says project manager Lisa Skedung from RISE.

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) repel water, dirt and grease and are used in ski waxes to reduce friction against snow. However, these chemicals have an extremely slow degradation and remain in nature for a very long time. In combination with high mobility for PFAS, this leads to bioaccumulation and possible exposure to humans through air, food and drinking water. PFAS is found in the blood of animals, even in remote regions, as well as in humans including infants. Some PFAS have been found to be toxic and have been linked to negative health effects.

For the ban on fluorinated waxes to have the intended effect, a robust method is needed to identify fluorine on skis in connection with competition. The Norwegian Institute of Air Research (NILU) has, together with Fraunhofer IVV in Germany, developed and piloted a method for indicating fluorinated substances on skis over the past two years.

- We now have a test method that works and can identify functional amounts of PFAS on skis before starting. It was tested last winter in Norwegian children's and youth competitions and we will continue during the 2020 season with samples at various competitions, says Martin Schlabach at NILU.

RISE, Peak Innovation and NILU are preparing further development of the so-called SkiFT method to make it even more robust and adapted to the requirements and regulations that FIS and national ski associations require for an elite level implementation.

-Totally, we will work in parallel with 4 different techniques where we will among other things evaluate what opportunities there are to train and use dogs for searching PFAS on skis in connection with competition, says RISE project manager Lisa Skedung.

The introduction of PFAS in the form of fluorinated waxes during the 1980s and 1990s has resulted in significantly faster rides in especially warm ski runs. Fluorinated waxes have over the past 30 years developed into a necessity to achieve the best results, and the fluorine powders that today are considered to give the best performance cost thousands of patches for a few grams. Phasing out now is not only due to the health effects shown and the spread of persistent chemicals to the environment but is also about creating a more equal sport.

- A total ban on fluorinated waxes is the right way forward as it eliminates all the ambiguities surrounding the new EU legislation. In addition, more PFAS will be regulated in the future and you will also avoid regulatory hair-splitting on whether similar substances are prohibited or permitted, says Joel Svedlund of Peak innovation.

Competition organisers and national ski federations have been active in the work on the roadmap to fluorine-free ski sports and are now taking important steps towards the phase-out of fluorinated waxes, to be ready when the new rules come into force.

- The roadmap is important in our work towards Swedish biathlon clubs on the subject and to explain in a good way why we will need to change our own practices first. We start this season directly with training at national level on fluorinated substances used in biathlon. We have also started a couple of initiatives to reduce or remove fluorine from our national competitions and are now discussing in our executive committees how a phase-out should take place, says Andreas Kårström, Swedish Biathlon Association.

- Vasaloppet's sustainability strategy includes, among other things, reducing the amount of chemicals and waste in nature. As a partner in the POPFREE project, we gain both expertise and a broad network where we work together for more sustainable events. The roadmap we have developed together gives us very good support in prioritizing activities that will help us become even more sustainable in the future, says Mats Rylander, sustainability manager at Vasaloppet.

- For the Swedish Ski Association, sustainability is an important issue that we actively work with in our daily operations in different ways. Participation in the POPFREE project has given us knowledge and access to a network that strengthens us in our efforts to create healthy environments in the skiing society. With the help from the roadmap, our work is put into a larger context where, together with other players, we identify activities for increasingly sustainable operations, says Anna Ottosson Blixth, business developer at the Swedish Ski Association.

POPFREE Ski Goes Global is a pre- study, funded by Vinnova, run by RISE and Peak Innovation in 2019. More information about the project can be found at https://www.ri.se/en/popfree/om-popfree-ski-goes-global

 

For more information contact:

Lisa Skedung, Projektledare RISE 

070 – 619 60 16, lisa.skedung@ri.se

Joel Svedlund, Peak Innovation

070-621 21 76, joel.svedlund@peakinnovation.se