GenX paves the way for addressing water pollutants
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GenX paves the way for addressing water pollutants

Recently, ECHA’s Member State Committee agreed to list GenX chemicals as Substances of Very High Concern (SVHCs). This marks the first time that chemicals are identified as SVHCs in part based on their mobility in the environment.

The committee agreed that the persistent, mobile and toxic (PMT) nature of GenX substances poses an equivalent level of concern (ELoC) as traditional categories used by REACH to define SVHCs – specifically CMR, PBT and vPvB.

“Opening the door for mobility as a property to be considered under REACH provides an important tool to tackle problematic environmental pollutants. There are many other substances that have PMT properties and need to be substituted”, says Dr. Anna Lennquist, Senior Toxicologist at ChemSec.

The GenX substances were created as an alternative to the widely criticised PFAS chemical PFOA for use in Teflon. Due to bad publicity, lawsuits and eventually regulations connected to PFOA, the American chemical company DuPont (now Chemours) created GenX and marketed it as a safer alternative. But really it was just another case of regrettable substitution.

“In essence, they replaced one toxic chemical with a similar one just to keep up production. A pattern that has been observed over and over again”, comments Dr. Lennquist.

“It was just another case of regrettable substitution”

The main difference from PFOA is that GenX chemicals are not bioaccumulative. They are, however, highly mobile in the environment, making them extremely difficult to control.

They have until now escaped regulation as they are neither CMRs nor PBTs.

The proposal for SVHC classification of GenX chemicals was based on mobility criteria that the German Environment Agency had been working on for years. However, it was not Germany who submitted the proposal earlier this year – it was the Netherlands.

Chemours has a permit to pump 6,400 kilos of GenX waste water into a river nearby its chemical plant in Dordrecht, Netherlands. Now, studies are finding GenX chemicals in Dutch drinking water, which has caused an outcry from both politicians and the general public due the adverse health effects associated with them.

GenX chemicals are, for example, linked to negative effects on the liver, kidney and the blood and immune systems.

“It’s scary to think that these chemicals are polluting our waters”

“If they enter drinking water, current cleaning technologies can only remove them at high societal costs, if at all”, Charmaine Ajao, who chaired the committee for the case, told Chemical Watch.

Adding to the concern is the highly persistent and mobile nature of the chemical in the environment. The fact that GenX substances are highly soluble in water and have a low absorption potential means that they can travel long distances and cause widespread exposures.

These intrinsic properties should be considered for further regulation in the future.

“We’re pleased to see that REACH is starting to look into PMTs as this is very much in line with our work to develop the SIN List. It’s scary to think that these chemicals are polluting our waters”, Dr. Lennquist concludes.