This story was originally published by The Guardian and appears here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

Skiers are leaving “forever chemicals” in the snow on ski slopes, a study has found.

Per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) —a group of 10,000 or so human-made chemicals widely used in industrial processes, firefighting foams and consumer products — are colloquially known as “forever chemicals” due to their persistence in the environment; they do not easily break down.

Some PFAS have been linked to cancers, thyroid disease and problems with the immune system and fertility, as well as developmental defects in unborn children.

The research by the James Hutton Institute in Aberdeen and the University of Graz in Austria has found that 14 different types of PFAS chemicals, which are commonly used in ski wax, were found in soils at family skiing spots in the Austrian Alps at levels far higher than in areas not normally used for skiing.

Lead researcher Viktoria Müller said: “These chemicals are called forever chemicals because they will need hundreds of years to break down. Because of this, they could accumulate or spread into the wider environment, including groundwater systems, which is the main concern.

“While there has been concern about the use of PFAS in ski wax for some time, this study on Alpine ski slopes showed that skiing will produce orders of magnitude higher concentrations of PFAS anywhere skiing is taking place where these types of wax are used.

“However, even where there is no skiing, there are still small detections because of how widely this chemical has now spread in the environment.”

Skiers use the wax to make their skis more slippery underneath so they can go down their runs faster. The study found that the chemicals in the wax are left behind long after the skier gets to the bottom of the slope.

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Ski wax containing PFAS chemicals was recently banned from some top resorts and in professional races because of the likelihood of toxicity.

The chemicals, first used in the 1940s, have become so prevalent in the environment that they have been found in drinking water across England and in the sea in the Netherlands. Scientists and conservationists across the globe have been pushing for a blanket ban on the use of PFAS because of how long it takes to break down in the environment, and fears over how toxic it is.

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