Preparing multiple pairs of skis for the TUNA 15K skate race on New Year’s Day 2014 I was confident with my wax safety precautions: ventilated space with overhead and cross flow fans, respirator for top coating (ironed/brushed Jet Stream powder), and closed off heat sources to avoid pilot/burner interaction with the fluorinated particles and vapors. But by midnight I had developed an irritating cough that awakened me through the night.
The next morning I skipped the event thinking I was coming down with the flu. Two days later after a visit to the local clinic, a blood O2 test and chest x-ray revealed fluid in my lungs (pneumonia) with no associated flu symptoms. The cause was isolated to a contaminated respirator which had been hanging in my wax room. This was a critical error on my part that raised some skepticism about the real toxicity present in wax-room environments associated with perfluoro-chemicals.
Fluorine is Highly Reactive
A quick Google search of fluorine (highly toxic pale yellow gas, highly reactive, atomic #9, readily forms compounds with other elements, remains in environment for extended periods of time etc.) made me even more suspicious. Metabolic tests of World Cup wax techs have shown high blood levels of PFOA , perfluoro-octanoic acid (AKA C8) resulting from biotransformation of PFCs (perfluoro chemicals) that carry serious health risks including cardiovascular disease, liver damage, cancer, and hormone disruption. PFCs are also present in Teflon coatings, rug cleaners and fabric treatments to name just a few background sources you may have unknowingly been exposed to.
Need a visual? Iron and brush out Toko Jetstream or Swix Cera or block. Then shut off the wax room lights and turn on your headlamp. Sparkle city! That’s what you don’t want in your alveoli.
Long term ‘over exposure’ from waxing a few race preps every other weekend might not rise to the ‘World Cup’ threat level but here are some methods to minimize risks in your home-based wax room.
Wax Safety Tips
MASK UP: use a respirator that filters PM2.5 particles when scraping/brushing HF and powders/blocks. Find something with replaceable filters — a paint store would probably have adequate protection. Full masks help protect the eyes from vapors, but a mask will at least protect your lungs.
ELIMINATE OPEN FLAME EXPOSURE: shut off pilot lights, heating elements including space heaters and baseboard heaters in your wax area, or close doors that separate the wax area from utility rooms that contain these appliances.
BUFFER THE IRON: resting your hot wax iron base on a folded rag or shop towel will prevent excessive smoking between ski applications. Don’t forget to unplug afterwards!
VENTILATE YOUR SPACE: use overhead and cross-flow fans, and open an outside window or door to circulate fresh air.
CLEAN FILTERS AND MASK: (see paragraph one) Store your mask in another room, preferably in a clean, sealed container and remove and replace filters regularly.
DECREASE WAX TIME: it’s a good idea to improve waxing efficiency to decrease time spent in all aspects of waxing. Also, if I know I can get 35-40k on my wax application I’m skiing that distance before re-waxing (unless conditions change and I need that particular pair prepped for a race).
My mantra: “The sport is Nordic Skiing, not Nordic ski waxing.”
Recently the EU has announced a ban on the previously mentioned C8-PFOAs to take effect in Feb., 2020. TOKO chemists have been developing solutions for several years and will introduce two years in advance (Feb., 2018), compliant formulations that are currently and successfully in use on the World Cup Alpine and Nordic circuit.
Until then, take precautions, sleep well, and race with confidence in your preparations.