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How is that masked man (and why is he wearing the mask?)

Tue, Nov  6, 2012 - By Bert Hinkley

I wax a lot of skis. Many of the wax rooms I have worked in were dark. Many were also not well ventilated. This is the literal example of working in the dark. Just a short time ago I was waxing at the WebSkis shop and the sun was finally high enough to shine through a skylight directly onto my work area. HOLY WOW, what a lot of dust there was in the air. I was using hand brushes and a low-fluor /hydrocarbon wax. I was not burning powders. But the amount of wax dust in the air made me pause and ponder. I began to carefully look at all the surfaces in the work area. There was fine wax dust pretty much everywhere. It was behind me on a bench not being used. It was on the tools on the wall. It was on top of the wall telephone. When I swept the floor at the end of the day, it was on the floor throughout the work area.

Hmmm?? What is going into my lungs and what is the impact? A quick google search did not reveal a clear answer. It seems that other people have been concerned about the topic and some research has been done. Most of the studies and abstracts I looked at were done in the late ‘80s and ‘90s. Some were conducted using hydrocarbon waxes and some using fluorocarbon compounds. There is a general agreement that burning fluorocarbon powders and breathing the vapors is not a good idea. But the evidence on the impact of hydrocarbon particles on pulmonary function was mixed. Some studies showed little or no detrimental effect on the study subjects. Other studies indicated from 5% to 25% impaired lung function at the end of the test time. Nobody seems to have done long term studies.

Wax dust is a health concern for cross country skiers

So, my guess is that breathing wax dust cannot be good for lung function. Breathing any smoke or dust is generally an irritant to the lungs. Why would wax dust be any different? It is also probable that waxing a pair of skis once a week will have little impact on permanent lung function. But for those of us who wax many pairs of skis a day for many days, we might begin to take a look at our practices. I believe that it would be good to follow some basic principles:

  1. Wax skis in a well lit and well ventilated area.

  2. Do not over-heat the wax. Overheating will product smoke (vaporized compounds) that can easily be taken into the lungs. (It can also damage that favorite pair of skis.)

  3. If not waxing with fluorocarbons, at least use a particulate (dust ) mask.

  4. If waxing multiple pairs of skis, use a mask with a snug fit around the nose and mouth and an organic vapor filter.

  5. Be aware that roto brushes can produce more dust faster than hand brushes. Even hand brushes can produce a lot of dust.

  6. Solvents carry their own set of exposure issues and can be skin and lung irritants.
    Bottom line is that our lives are filled with toxins these days. Your couch has flame retardants, you food has preservatives, the air has Co2. We may not be able to avoid all this junk, but if we can make changes and be safer, it only makes sense to do so in order to enjoy cross country skiing for many more years.

If anyone out there has some scientifically sound information that could shed some light on the subject, feel free to comment.

Be well and keep skiing.

Bert