Announced today, the International Ski Federation (FIS) and International Biathlon Union (IBU) have postponed the ban on fluorinated waxes that was set to be implemented for the 2020-21 race season. According to both organizations, the decision was made in order to allow for more time to develop the device that will be used to test for the presence of fluorine wax.
“According to the proposal of [the Flourinated Wax Ban Working Group], the upcoming season will be used for further laboratory and field testing, to finalise testing protocols, and allow for the production of additional [fluorine testing] devices for purchase by stakeholders and enable implementation of the ban at all levels of FIS competition,” FIS wrote in a statement.
IBU elaborated, noting that development of the handheld Flourine Tracker that will be used to detect the presence of wax on skis has been delayed and needs further testing, adaptation and calibration. “As a result,” IBU wrote in its statement, “to ensure fair and consistent application of the rules across all IBU events and to provide clarity on the applied rules for the upcoming season, the IBU will allow the use of fluorine waxes, in line with the EU regulations, at its events in the 2020/2021 season.”
FIS and IBU originally announced a ban on all fluorinated ski waxes following the November 2019 FIS Autumn Meeting. The ban was set to go into effect in November 2020 for all IBU- and FIS-sanctioned sports, including Nordic, biathlon and alpine events. In writing of the news in 2019, fasterskier.com called the process of bringing nations and disciplines into compliance a “monumental task.”
“I like that they are making decisions, that we are going this way,” Canadian national team coach Erik Bråten told the website. “Let’s wait and see. Let’s stay optimistic until failure has come.”
The 2020 FIS Spring Meeting announced that controls would be implemented in November 2020, including testing of skis at start and finish areas, and that a transition period would allow for manufacturers, techs and teams to adapt to the new criteria. “From the 2021-22 season, after evaluation from the first season the measurement limit will be lowered to a possible minimum with the objective of a zero limit of fluorinated gliding compounds as from season 2022-23,” FIS wrote following the Spring Meeting. Now, that timeframe has shifted by a year.
Fluorinated wax and the raw perfluorooctanoic (PFOA) compounds used in these products have been widely and recently acknowledged for their negative impacts on health and the environment, leading to various bans in the U.S. and abroad. The U.S.’s Toxic Substances Control Act includes some compounds that are used in waxes and led to the 2018 audit by the Environmental Protection Agency of Swix and Toko. Cross Country Skier spoke with Steven Poulin, president of Swix USA, about the audit last September, and in February Swix released their line of fluoro-free wax a season early. Meanwhile in Europe, a ban by the European Chemicals Agency began prohibiting the sale, manufacture and import of products containing PFOAs in July 2020.
In spite of delaying the wax ban, FIS says its 100-percent committed to a fluorine-free future. “From next season onwards,” IBU President Olle Dahlin added in a statement, “we will go beyond the EU requirements and ensure we are upholding the highest standards of environmental protection, which is why we will completely ban fluorine waxes.”
In the U.S., meanwhile, fluorinated wax will soon become a thing of the past in competition. U.S. Ski and Snowboard remains committed to banning its use from all sanctioned snow sports competitions beginning this season, as announced in June following the organizations May 2020 meeting. Other U.S. organizations, including the New England Nordic Ski Association (NENSA), have underscored their commitment a fluorinated wax ban following FIS’s announcement, too.