Almost 200 French ski resorts now make artificial snow. This production may use an additive called "Snomax", first used in 1984 in Colorado (USA) and imported to France at the end of the 1980s.
The main active ingredient in Snomax is a protein of the cell wall of the bacteria "Pseudomonas syringae", which repositions the water molecules and accelerates their crystallisation. This protein is extracted from bacteria cultures and concentrated in the Snomax product, which is then sterilised by X rays at the end of production.
Today, this additive is used all over Europe (Germany, Austria, Switzerland, France, Italy, Sweden, etc.) and other countries (Canada, New Zealand, U.S.A., etc.). However, the use of additives may be prohibited in some regions of these countries, for example (Bavière, Tyrol, Vorarlberg, etc.).
Beyond the issues concerning the intensive use of water for such applications, questions are regularly raised over the risks associated with such additives for the environment and for health.
On 18 June 2005, Afsset received a solicited request from the Directorate General for Health (DGS), Directorate for the Prevention of Pollution and Risks (DPPR) and the Directorate for Economic Studies and Environmental Evaluation (D4E) to conduct an assessment of the health risks associated with the use of additives in the manufacture of artificial snow.
This solicited request asked for an overall risk assessment to be carried out, particularly for piste users and professionals.
This solicited request was presented to the Committee of Specialised Experts "Assessment of risks associated with air environments" which considered that this subject fell more within the field of water-related risks and therefore outside of its remit. Nevertheless, three experts will take part in the work. The Agency's Scientific Committee recommended that it be submitted to the future "biological agents" CSE of Afsset.
Pending the creation of such a CSE, the Agency asked Cemagref (October 2005) to review current knowledge and national regulations or recommendations for good practices in other countries besides France. This report will be made available to experts from the CSE "Water-Biological agents" as soon as it has been set up, planned for 2006.
Experts from this future CSE will have to examine exposure and risks for professionals during the production of artificial snow and for the general population during leisure activities. The conclusions of this research should be revealed in early 2007.
The Cemagref report issued in December 2005 concluded that Snomax had no impact on the quality of soils and plant cover. Nevertheless, it did highlight possible health risks that may appear if water of a poor microbiological quality is used to make the artificial snow. This is explained by the fact that using Snomax (bacterial protein) adds nutrients (organic matter) to the micro-organisms that are already present in the water used to make the artificial snow and therefore, the use of artificial snow on pistes may expose professionals, or the general population, to harmful germs.