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Key value for chemical safety assessment

Additional information

The genotoxicity of soluble and slightly soluble zinc compounds have been extensively investigated in a wide range of in vitro and in vivo studies. The in vitro investigations included non-mammalian and mammalian test systems covering the endpoints of gene mutation, chromosomal aberrations, sister chromatide exchange, unscheduled DNA synthesis (UDS), as well as cell transformation. Available in vivo genotoxicity assays included the micronucleus test, sister chromatide exchange (SCE) and chromosomal aberration test and the dominant lethal mutation assay in mouse or rat as well as investigations for sex-linked recessive lethal mutation in drosophila melanogaster.

The investigated zinc compounds did not increase the mutation frequencies in the majority of bacterial or mammalian cell culture systems. For example, zinc chloride, zinc sulphate, zinc bis(dihydrogen phosphate), zinc oxide or zinc monoglycerolate were consistently negative in the Ames test. While zinc chloride was also negative for gene mutations in the mouse lymphoma assays, there was some evidence that zinc oxide, zinc acetate or zinc monoglycerolate induced in the absence of metabolic activation the formation of mutation colonies. Several reviewers noted, however, that these mutations were observed at cytotoxic concentrations and that the analysis did not distinguish between big and small colonies which could be caused by gene mutation or chromosomal aberrations (Thompsonet al.,1989, WHO, 2001; EU RAR, 2008; MAK, 2009).

Conflicting information was further found when zinc compounds were examined for their potential to induce chromosomal aberrations or sister chromatide exchange in mammalian cell systems or when evaluated in the cell transformation assay. Positive as well as negative results were obtained in these cell systems with either soluble or slightly soluble zinc compounds. In those studies where chromosomal aberrations or sister chromatide exchange has been observed, these were generally considered to be weak and occurred only at high, often cytotoxic concentrations. Moreover, these positive in vitro findings have also to be seen in context of the impact that changes in zinc levels can have on cell system processes that are controlled by a strict metal homeostasis. A change of this metal homeostasis due to increased zinc levels, may lead to a binding of zinc to amino acids like cystein and therefore to an inhibition of certain enzymes. This can lead to interactions with the energy metabolism, signal transmission and apoptotic processes which can lead to the observed clastogenic or aneugenic effects in in vitro systems (EU RAR, 2008; MAK, 2009).

In addition to above mentioned in vitro investigations, various soluble and slightly soluble zinc compounds have also been studied in a range of in vivo studies including the micronucleus test, SCE and chromosomal aberration test or dominant lethal mutation assay in mice or rats as well as in the Drosophila Melanogaster SLRL test. The zinc compounds were consistently negative in the micronucleus and in the assay with Drosophila Melanogaster. Zinc sulphate was further negative in a dominant lethal assay in rats.

As discussed in section 5.7.1.2, equivocal and sometimes contradictory results were obtained in the in vivo chromosomal aberration assays. These equivocal finding likely a reflection of inter-study differences in routes, levels, and duration of zinc exposure, the nature of lesions scored (gaps compared to more accepted structural alterations) and great variability in the technical rigour of individual studies (WHO, 2001). The German MAK committee reviewed the existing in vivo evidence and concluded that particularly those studies indicating clastogenic effects involved a lot of methodological uncertainties which do not allow overruling those in vivo studies which did not provide any evidence for chromosomal aberrations in vivo. Moreover, the Dutch rapporteur of EU risk assessment of zinc compounds under the EU existing substance legislation considered the positive in vitro findings for chromosomal aberration and SCE assays to be overruled by the overall weight of evidence of negative in vivo tests for this endpoint (EU RAR, 2008).


Endpoint Conclusion: No adverse effect observed (negative)

Justification for classification or non-classification

The overall weight of the evidence from the existing in vitro and in vivo genotoxicity assays suggests that zinc compounds do not have biologically relevant genotoxic activity. This conclusion is in line with those achieved by other regulatory reviews of the genotoxicity of zinc compounds (WHO, 2001; SCF, 2003; EU RAR, 2008, MAK, 2009). Hence, no classification and labelling for mutagenicity is required.

Copper content in GSS is highly low (about 100 ppm), and bonded to the structure of ZnS (Zn is partially substituted with Cu), so the effect of copper on the classification of the registered substance can be ignored.