Eco-toxicological impact of metals on the aquatic and terrestrial ecosystem: A comparison between eight different methodologies for Life Cycle Impact Assessment (LCIA)

Pizzol M, Christensen P, Schmidt J, Thomsen M (2011)

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Journal of Cleaner Production 19:687-698


The assessment of eco-toxicological impacts related to the emission of contaminants into the environment has peculiar characteristics in the context of Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), and many different Life Cycle Impact Assessment (LCIA) methodologies can be used. However, previous studies recognized the presence of high uncertainties in the process, in particular when the analysis focuses on metal emissions. Metals are diverse inorganic substances relevant for their characteristic environmental chemistry, their high persistency into the environment and their toxicity at even low environmental concentrations. This study aims at expanding the discussion about how, and how differently, various methods for LCIA are estimating the impacts related to metals emissions, with a focus on eco-toxicological impacts. A comparison between eight different LCIA methods is presented in relative terms, using a contribution analysis at two levels: general and specific. Results show that there is a poor agreement between methods in the determination of the total eco-toxic impact attributable to metals, and in defining which metal provokes the highest eco-toxic impact per unitary emission. Furthermore, the characterization phase is critical in determining the disagreement between methods. However, some similarities were found: there is the tendency in most methods to associate the largest share of the total eco-toxicological impacts to metals. Theoretical and practical differences between methods are discussed and suggestions for the choice of the proper, case-specific, LCIA method are provided.

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