An (Eco)Toxicity Life Cycle Impact Assessment Framework for Per- And Polyfluoroalkyl Substances

Hanna Holmquist, Peter Fantke, Ian T. Cousins, Mikołaj Owsianiak, Ioannis Liagkouridis, Gregory M. Peters

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A framework for characterizing per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) in life cycle impact assessment (LCIA) is proposed. Thousands of PFASs are used worldwide, with special properties imparted by the fluorinated alkyl chain. Our framework makes it possible to characterize a large part of the family of PFASs by introducing transformation fractions that translate emissions of primary emitted PFASs into the highly persistent terminal degradation products: the perfluoroalkyl acids (PFAAs). Using a PFAA-adapted characterization model, human toxicity as well as marine and freshwater aquatic ecotoxicity characterization factors are calculated for three PFAAs, namely perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) perfluorohexanoic acid (PFHxA) and perfluorobutanesulfonic acid (PFBS). The model is evaluated to adequately capture long-term fate, where PFAAs are predicted to accumulate in open oceans. The characterization factors of the three PFAAs are ranked among the top 5% for marine ecotoxicity, when compared to 3104 chemicals in the existing USEtox results databases. Uncertainty analysis indicates potential for equally high ranks for human health impacts. Data availability constitutes an important limitation creating uncertainties. Even so, a life cycle assessment (LCA) case study illustrates practical application of our proposed framework, demonstrating that even low emissions of PFASs can have large effects on LCA results. ©
Original languageEnglish
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Issue number10
Pages (from-to)6224-6234
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • Degradation
  • Environmental pollution
  • Environmental modeling
  • Toxins
  • Toxicity

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