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PFHpA, a member of the hazardous PFAS family, is increasingly being found in our bodies and the environment. But not unlike in a mystery novel, this is happening without this substance even being registered in the EU for production or import. HEAL supports the Dutch proposal to identify PFHpA as a substance of very high concern under REACH, which would constitute the first step to put an end to our exposure to this toxic chemical. However, all PFAS need to be regulated as a group to truly get at the root of the problem to prevent further harm.

Perfluoroheptanoic acid (PFHpA) and its salts is just one of thousands of PFAS chemicals – a group of health-harming substances known as “forever chemicals” due to their extreme persistence or inability to break down in the environment. PFHpA is a prime example of why REACH must regulate the entire group of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in one go and phase out all non-essential uses as promised under the EU Green Deal’s Chemical Strategy for Sustainability

PFHpA: a mysterious member of the PFAS family

There is clear and unequivocal scientific evidence that demonstrates global PFAS contamination in people and the environment. It’s also one of the most persistent human-made chemical groups known to date. 

Older, long-chain PFAS, namely PFOA and PFOS, are known as legacy PFAS and have been banned and phased out of production due to their adverse impacts. However, industry continues replacing these legacy PFAS with short-chain counterparts like PFHpA under the false assertion that they are safe and sustainable. In reality, emerging research conducted by both independent and industry scientists on many of these short-chain PFAS demonstrates similar adverse effects to the legacy PFAS. In some instances, short-chain PFAS are proving even harder to remove from water [1] [2].

PFHpA is a minor degradation product of many different long-chain PFAS [3]. It has been found in waterways, rain, air, soil, wildlife, and humans in all corners of the world including in Europe. This is a real cause for concern, because PFHpA is not even registered and commercially produced in the EU. However, other PFAS are produced and imported into the EU, thus contributing to potential degradation that leads to PFHpA contamination.

PFHpA also falls into the same subgroup of similar, shorter-chain PFAS known as PFCAs, several of which were already identified under REACH as a substance of very high concern and are on the candidate list for authorisation [4].

Where PFAS (and the mysterious PFHpA) are found
PFAS are used in a whole slew of consumer and industrial products and applications, contributing to PFHpA’s growing ubiquity as a breakdown product derived from many of these sources. One of the main industrial uses of PFAS is in fire fighting foams. PFAS are known for their water- and stain-resistant properties and are also used in many different consumer products, including but not limited to [5] [6]:

  • Fabrics and carpet
  • Non-stick cookware
  • Cleaning products
  • Personal care products (e.g. cosmetics, dental floss, feminine hygiene products, etc)
  • Food packaging
  • Apparel
  • Textiles
  • Leather products
  • Ski waxes
  • Synthetic turf

Other examples of industries that rely heavily on PFAS include aerospace, defence, automotive, and aviation. 

The different ways people are exposed to PFHpA

People are exposed to PFHpA through drinking water, air, food, breastmilk, and products used on a daily basis [7]. Avoiding exposure through these various routes is very difficult, if not impossible, as it is ubiquitous in our environment. 

Like many other shorter chain PFAS, removing PFHpA from drinking water is tricky – conventional and advanced water treatment processes have proven insufficient at filtering it out. As a result, it has increasingly been detected in bottled, tap, and ground and well water [8]. It has also been detected in food, migrating from many different potential sources such as food packaging, non-stick cookware, consumer products, and uptake throughout the food chain [9]. 

Scientists have also found several PFAS that are potential precursors of short-chained breakdown products such as PFHpA, PFHxA, PFPeA, and PFBA in vulnerable populations, including pregnant women and children living in six EU countries with higher fish consumption [10]. This research demonstrates increased risk of adverse long-term effects of PFAS exposure on highly vulnerable populations, in addition to potential irreversible impacts on future generations’ health and well-being [11].

PFHpA affects our health

PFHpA affects many organs in the body. It’s been found to last for a long time and bioaccumulate in our bodies. Scientists have raised concerns over both combined exposures to chemical mixtures that include PFHpA, in addition to cumulative exposure over time to these chemical mixtures. Low-dose effects associated with PFAS exposure in humans have also been observed. Thus, a safe dose cannot be determined [12]. 

Adverse health impacts linked directly to exposure to PFHpA include [13]:

  • Reprotoxicity: In 2020, the European Chemicals Agency’s (ECHA) Committee for Risk Assessment (RAC) concluded that PFHpA may damage the foetus causing such reproductive and developmental effects as preeclampsia, lower birth weight, delayed mammary gland development, early puberty onset, low sperm count and mobility, and increased miscarriage [14] [15].
  • Liver damage: In 2020, ECHA’s Committee for Risk Assessment (RAC) also concluded that PFHpA has specific toxic effects on the liver after repeated exposure [16].
  • Endocrine disruption: Animal studies provide evidence of interference of PFHpA with thyroid hormones, potentially contributing to thyroid disease [17].
  • Kidney damage: Human studies have linked exposure to PFAS including PFHpA and increased odds of kidney disease [18].

Adverse health impacts linked more generally to PFAS: [19] [20]

  • Obesity, diabetes, and high cholesterol: The scientific literature suggests that general PFAS exposure is linked to increased risk of metabolic disorders and human insulin resistance [21].
  • Cancer: Scientific reviews of the literature have found increased risk of testicular and kidney cancers from exposure to PFAS [22] [23].
  • Effects on the immune system: Scientific research suggests that PFAS exposure is associated with such adverse effects as reduced vaccine antibodies in children, immunosuppression, asthma, and allergies [24] [25].

PFHpA’s widespread environmental impact

PFHpA’s intrinsic properties and extreme mobility in water allow it to persist and move long distances in aquatic environments, far from sources of emissions. It has been detected in the Arctic and Antarctic, contaminating remote fragile ecosystems globally [26]. PFHpA has also been detected in endangered species including arctic foxes and polar bears, which are thought to be exposed through their diet of fish. It is also known to bioaccumulate in birds and mammals, potentially impacting wildlife and humans long term [27]. PFHpA far exceeds the established threshold for a very persistent, mobile chemical with its high potential to irreversibly impact the environment and human health.

PFHpA: an example of why all PFAS chemicals need to be regulated as a group

Existing evidence is more than sufficient to justify PFHpA’s identification as a substance of very high concern, just as other closely related short-chain PFAS have been. The scientific literature on PFHpA is comprehensive and clear, composed of many standard tests, monitoring and modelling studies, grouping and read-across approaches based on its analogues, and (Q)SAR results [28]. This is why we support the Dutch’s proposal to identify PFHpA as a substance of very high concern and place it on REACH’s black list of chemicals. 

PFHpA is a poster child for why PFAS chemicals must also be regulated as an entire group to avoid regrettable substitution and prevent further irreversible damage to the environment and human health. HEAL calls upon the ECHA Member States Committee to support this proposal when it meets to discuss it this week, 12 December 2022, and urges the EU Commission to keep its commitment under the EU Chemicals Strategy [29].


Click here to download HEAL’s comments on the SVHC identification proposal for PFHpA (submitted on 13 October 2022). 

The current EU regulatory scheme under REACH is failing to protect its citizens and the environment from chemicals like PFHpA. HEAL will continue to submit public consultations, sign letters, support manifestos, create infographics and fact sheets, and more to advocate for science-driven, health and environmentally protective EU and global policies.

Find out more about our work on PFAS chemicals: 

  • Visit our campaign page
  • HEAL’s contribution to the public consultation on PFHpA (December 2022)  
  • There is much scientific consensus on the many deleterious health and environmental effects linked to both legacy and new generation PFAS. This is why HEAL has signed on to a letter spearheaded by the Green Science Policy Institute along with 115 other scientists and organisations from around the world to urge the World Health Organisation to withdraw or revise its draft of the PFAS drinking water guidelines and ensure alignment with the current state of the science. 
  • HEAL supports the 80 civil society organisations initiative on the Ban PFAS manifesto

[1] Perkins, T. Chemical giants hid dangers of ‘forever chemicals’ in food packaging | Pollution | The Guardian. 12 May 2021.

[2] Tempkin, A. (2021). The new generation of ‘forever chemicals’ – toxicity, exposure, contamination and regulation. Environmental Working Group.

[3] Dutch Competent Authority. (August 2022).  Annex XV Report: Proposal for identification of a substance of Very High Concern on the Basis of the Criteria Set Out in Reach Article 57. Pg. 15-16

[4] Dutch Competent Authority. (August 2022). Pg. 16-17HFPO-DA, APFO, PFOA, PFNA, PFDA, PFUnDA, PFDoDA, PFTrDA, PFTeDA, and PFHxA are on or proposed to be on the candidate list.

[5] European Chemical Agency. Perfluoroalkyl chemicals (PFASs) – ECHA (

[6] Environmental Working Group. Human Toxome Project: PFHpA. 

[7] Zheng G, Shreder E, Dempsey JC, Uding N, Chu V, Andres G et al. (2021). Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) in Breast Milk: Concerning Trends for Current-Use PFAS. Environ Sci Technol. 55(11): 7510–7520. Doi: 10.1021/acs.est.0c06978.

[8] Dutch Competent Authority. (August 2022). Annex XV Report: Proposal for identification of a substance of Very High Concern on the Basis of the Criteria Set Out in Reach Article 57.

[9] Strakova, J., Schneider, J., Cingotti, N. (2021).Throwaway Packaging, Forever Chemicals: European-wide survey of PFAS in disposable food packaging and tableware. Health and Environment Alliance | ‘Forever chemicals’ widespread in disposable food packaging from popular fast-food chains across Europe, new study shows (

[10] Raj Kamal Singh, Sujan Fernando, Sadjad Fakouri Baygi, et al. (2019). Breakdown Products from Perfluorinated Alkyl Substances (PFAS) Degradation in a Plasma-Based Water Treatment Process. Environmental Science & Technology. 53:(5), 2731-2738. DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.8b07031.

[11] Papadopoulou E, Haug LS, et al. (2019). Diet as a Source of Exposure to Environmental Contaminants for Pregnant Women and Children from Six European Countries. Environ Health Perspect. 127(10):107005. doi: 10.1289/EHP5324.

[12] Lin CY, Lin LY, Chiang CK, Wang WJ, Su YN, Hung KY, & Chen PC. (2010). Investigation of the Associations Between Low-Dose Serum Perfluorinated Chemicals and Liver Enzymes in US Adults. The American Journal of Gastroenterology. 105(6):1354-1363. Doi: 10.1038/AJG.2009.707.

[13] Dutch Competent Authority. (August 2022). Annex XV Report: Proposal for identification of a substance of Very High Concern on the Basis of the Criteria Set Out in Reach Article 57.

[14] RAC. (2020). Committee for Risk Assessment Opinion proposing harmonised classification and labelling at EU level of Perfluoroheptanoic acid; tridecafluoroheptanoic acid EC Number: 206-798-9 CAS Number: 375-85-9 CLH-O-0000006908-60-01/F Adopted 10 December 2020 Available at: c9b2-a7144073af72.

[15] Fenton, S. E., Ducatman, A., Boobis, A., et al. (2020). Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substance Toxicity and Human Health Review: Current State of Knowledge and Strategies for Informing Future Research. Environ Tox and Chem. 40(3): 606-630. Doi: 10.1002/etc.4890.

[16] RAC (2020).

[17] Dutch Competent Authority. (August 2022). Pg. 55.

[18]  Xie, L. et al. (2022). Serum concentrations of per-/polyfluoroalkyl substances and its association with renal function parameters among teenagers near a Chinese fluorochemical industrial plant: A cross-sectional study. Environ Pollution. (302):119020. Doi: 10.1016/j.envpol.2022.119020.

[19] European Chemical Agency. Perfluoroalkyl chemicals (PFASs) – ECHA (

[20] FIGO, HEAL, UCSF Office of Sustainability, and UCSF Program on Reproductive Health and Environment. (2021). How PFAS chemicals affect women, pregnancy and human development: Health actors call for urgent action to phase them out.

[21] Fenton, S. E., Ducatman, A., Boobis, A., et al. (2020). 

[22] Ibid. 

[23] Steenland, K. and Winquist, A. (2021). PFAS and cancer, a scoping review of the epidemiologic evidence. Environ Res. 194: 110690. Doi: 10.1016/j.envres.2020.110690.

[24] Zhang, X., Qui, L., Deji, Z., et al. (2022). Effects of exposure to per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances on vaccine antibodies: A systematic review and meta-analysis based on epidemiological studies. Environ Pollution. (306):119442. Doi: 10.1016/j.envpol.2022.119442.

[25] Fenton, S. E., Ducatman, A., Boobis, A., et al. (2020). 

[26] Dutch Competent Authority. (August 2022). Pg. 33.

[27] Ibid.

[28] Dutch Competent Authority. (August 2022). Pg. 8.

[29] Chemical Strategy for Sustainability Towards a Toxic-Free Environment

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