ECHA Identifies GenX Chemicals as Substances of Very High Concern

The Member State Committee (MSC) of the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) recently agreed to identify GenX chemicals as substances of very high concern (SVHCs). This decision represents a significant development as it is the first time that proposed SVHC status has been ba­sed on a chemical’s mobility and environmental persistence.

About GenX

GenX is a trade name for a technology developed to create effective fluoropolymers. It was introduced by DuPont in 2009 with the intention of replacing perfluoro­octanoic acid (PFOA), a persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic (PBT) chemical. GenX is currently managed by Chemours, a DuPont spin-off company. While the term “GenX” technically refers to the technology itself, it is frequently used synonymously with the associated chemical hexafluoropropylene oxide dimer acid (HFPO-DA) and related compounds.

Classification as SVHCs

In late June of this year, the MSC made the unanimous decision to classify HFPO-DA, its salts, and its acyl halides as SVHCs. This decision was based primarily on the probable detrimental effects these chemicals have on the environment and on human health. The MSC acknowledged that these compounds present an equivalent level of concern to:

  • carcinogenic, mutagenic and reprotoxic (CMR) chemicals
  • persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic (PBT) chemicals
  • very persistent and very bioaccumulative (vPvB) chemicals

The Committee noted that HFPO-DA’s potential to impact human health and the environment largely resulted from its mobility in water, very high persistence, and long-range transport potential. A principal concern surrounding HFPO-DA chemicals is that they have been detected in locations far from their original use. Given their water solubility and low adsorption potential, these chemicals can travel significant distances and are not easily removed from water, resulting in an ongoing presence and continued bioavailability.

Controversy has surrounded GenX chemicals for much of the past decade, particularly with regard to the likelihood and nature of their potential health effects. Some disagreement also exists with the MSC’s recent SVHC decision, most notably from Chemours itself. It is anticipated that this will remain a controversial topic for some time as research on it continues.

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