Tests of snowmaking additive questioned
SUMMIT COUNTY ” Recent reports that an additive used to increase production of man-made snow might harm plants hit the manufacturer like a bolt out of the blue.
And once the lawyers got involved, the researchers who first reported their findings were forced to issue a clarification, warning that those lab results shouldn’t be extrapolated to conditions present during snowmaking.
Snomax, an ice-nucleating protein derived from a common bacteria, was recently lab tested at Utah State University, where data suggested it might inhibit plant growth by harming mycorhizal fungi, at least in a lab setting.
Several subsequent articles suggested that there could be negative impacts to forests and other plants in areas where Snomax is used.
But the lab testing was not consistent with the way Snomax is used in the field, said Rich Brown, of York International. The concentrations used in snowmaking operations at ski areas such as Copper Mountain are so low that there is no chance of any negative environmental impacts, Brown said.
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Snomax is added to snowmaking water to help create ice particles at relatively higher temperatures. Copper was one of the original testing grounds for the product between 1983 and 1987, and it’s still in use at the Summit County ski area. Other local resorts use either very little Snomax or none at all, Brown said.
The Utah research suggested that Snomax has fungicidal properties. As tested in the lab, it can damage or kill fungi that play a role in helping plant roots absorb nutrients and water.
“That looks pretty scary,” said Brown, explaining that York was extremely concerned about the effects of the reports on existing and potential new customers. Based on 17 years of data, the company insists that no negative environmental impacts associated with Snomax have ever been reported.
The product has been regulated for commercial development by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Environment Canada, and has been approved for use in Canada, Norway, Japan, Sweden, New Zealand, Chile, Argentina, France, Switzerland and Australia.
According to Brown, the researchers grew the fungi in an artificial environment and then applied Snomax in a concentration millions of times higher than would ever occur in a snowmaking situation.
“That’s not the way we apply our product in the field,” Brown said. “I find the whole thing extremely regrettable. They’re letting us have a great deal of input on (what they’re going to put) on their Web site.”
In the clarification, issued late last week, university officials said they are “not aware of any deleterious effects on tree growth or any adverse environmental effects attributable to the product.”