Evaluation of Ecotoxicity Effect Indicators for Use in LCIA

Henrik Fred Larsen, Michael Zwicky Hauschild

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    Goal, Scope and Background. The paper describes different ecotoxicity effect indicator methods/approaches. The approaches cover three main groups, viz. PNEC approaches, PAF approaches and damage approaches. Ecotoxicity effect indicators used in life cycle impact assessment (LCIA) are typically modelled to the level of impact, indicating the potential impact on 'ecosystem health'. The few existing indicators, which are modelled all the way to damage, are poorly developed, and even though relevant alternatives from risk assessment exist (e.g. recovery time and mean extinction time), these are unfortunately at a very early stage of development, and only few attempts have been made to include them in LCIA. Methods. The approaches are described and evaluated against a set of assessment criteria comprising compatibility with the methodological requirements of LCIA, environmental relevance, reproducibility, data demand, data availability, quantification of uncertainty, transparency and spatial differentiation. Results and Discussion. The results of the evaluation of the two impact approaches (i.e. PNEC and PAF) show both pros and cons for each of them. The assessment factor-based PNEC approach has a low data demand and uses only the lowest data (e.g. lowest NOEC value). Because it is developed in tiered risk assessment, and hence makes use of conservative assessment factors, it is not optimal, in its present form, to use in the comparative framework of LCIA, where best estimates are sought. The PAF approaches have a higher data demand but use all data and can be based on effect data (PNEC is no-effect-based), thus making these approaches non-conservative and more suitable for LCIA. However, indiscriminate use of ecotoxicity data tends to make the PAF-approaches no more environmentally relevant than the assessment factor-based PNEC approaches. The PAF approaches, however, can at least in theory be linked to damage modelling. All the approaches for damage modelling which are included here have a high environmental relevance but very low data availability, apart from the 'media recovery- approach', which depends directly on the fate model. They are all at a very early stage of development. Conclusion, Recommendations and Outlook. An analysis of the different PAF approaches shows that the crucial point is according to which principles and based on which data the hazardous concentration to 50% of the included species (i.e. HC50) is estimated. The ability to calculate many characterisation factors for ecotoxicity is important for this impact category to be included in LCIA in a proper way. However, the access to effect data for the relevant chemicals is typically limited. So, besides the coupling to damage modelling, the main challenge within the further development and improvement of ecotoxicity effect indicators is to find an optimal method to estimate HC50 based on little data.
    Original languageEnglish
    JournalInternational Journal of Life Cycle Assessment
    Issue number1
    Pages (from-to)24-33
    Publication statusPublished - 2007


    • ecotoxicity effect indicators
    • Damage approaches
    • hazardous


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