Can a chemical be both readily biodegradable AND very persistent (vP)? Weight‑of‑evidence determination demonstrates that phenanthrene is not persistent in the environment

25 Nov 2020

Under the European REACH regulation, chemicals are assessed for persistence as part of weight-of-evidence determinations of persistence, bioaccumulation and toxicity (PBT), as required under Annex XIII and supported by an Integrated Assessment and Testing Strategy (ITS). This study describes the persistence assessment of phenanthrene, a data-rich polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH), in accordance with this framework. All available data from screening and simulation tests, for water, soil and sediment compartments, plus other relevant information, have been compiled. These have been evaluated for reliability and relevance, and a weight-of-evidence determination of persistence has been carried out. Aspects relevant to the assessment, such as degradation metabolites, non-extractable residues (NER), test temperature and bioavailability, have also been considered. The resulting assessment considered a wide range of evidence, including 101 experimental data points. Phenanthrene was demonstrated to be readily biodegradable, a first-tier screen for non-persistence in the ITS. Furthermore, weight-of-evidence assessment of data for water, soil and sediment compartments supported a conclusion of “not persistent” (not P). In non-standard soil studies with sludge-amended soils, longer half-lives were observed. This was attributable to pyrogenic sources of and significantly reduced bioavailability of phenanthrene, highlighting the importance of bioavailability as a major source of variability in persistence data. Available simulation test data for the sediment compartment were found to be unreliable due to the anoxic impact of the use of a biodegradable solvent in a closed system, and were inconsistent with the broader weight of evidence. Estimation of photodegradation using AOPWIN and the APEX model demonstrated this to be an important fate process not currently considered in persistence assessments under REACH. The assessment is not in agreement with a recent regulatory decision in which phenanthrene was determined to be very persistent (vP). This assessment provides a case study for persistence assessment using the REACH ITS and highlights the need for improved guidance to improve consistency and predictability of assessments. This is particularly important for complex cases with data-rich chemicals, such as phenanthrene.

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