For the First Time, the ECHA Classifies Chemical as an SVHC Based on Its Environmental Mobility

In the future, the ECHA Member State Committee (MSC) could classify persistent chemicals that spread rapidly in the environment as substances of very high concern (SVHC). At their meeting at the end of June in Helsinki, committee representatives created a precedent by classifying 2,3,3,3-tetrafluoro-2-(heptafluoropropoxy)propionic acid (HFPO-DA) and its salts and acylhalides as SVHCs for the first time, based on their environmental mobility. The ECHA will include newly identified SVHCs in the candidate list in July 2019.

HFPO-DA (nicknamed the forever chemical) and its derivatives are also called GenX chemicals. They serve as a substitute for PFOA in the manufacture of fluoropolymers.

In a conversation with Chemical Watch, the chair of the ECHA committee, Charmaine Ajao, spoke of a very important milestone. Environmentally mobile chemicals represent an equivalent level of concern (ELOC) as carcinogenic, mutagenic and reprotoxic (CMR), persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic (PBT) and very persistent and very bioaccumulative (vPvB) substances. Dutch and German environmental agencies have targeted mobile hazardous chemicals for some time.

The Dutch Ministry for Infrastructure and Water Management submitted the proposal to classify HFPO-DA as an SVHC and described the properties of the substances and their effects on the aquatic environment. They are highly soluble in water, which means that they have a small chance of being adsorbed. When they sink and move through ground layers, they do not adhere at all to sediment or do so only poorly. Exactly this property makes them so mobile that current water-purification processes cannot capture them.

The ECHA committee also discussed the effects of the substances on human health. Some studies indicate a carcinogenic effect for HPFO-DA, along with endocrine disruptions. However, most tests to determine bioavailability and bioaccumulation are targeted toward fat-soluble chemicals, not water-soluble chemicals.

Critics have addressed exactly this point. A spokesperson for Chemours, an HFPO-DA manufacturer told Chemical Watch that unlike previous compounds, HFPO-DA has been shown to be eliminated from the body quickly because of its good water-solubility.

The European Chemical Industry Council (CEFIC) also criticized the classification of chemicals based on ELOC. The classification criteria are too vague for CEFIC, as stated in a reflection paper presenting its arguments and concerns.

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