Getting the chemicals right: Gaps and opportunities in addressing inorganics in life cycle assessment

Peter Fantke, Nienke Kirchhübel

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    Abstract

    Life cycle assessment (LCA) is used to compare products and product systems in terms of their environmental sustainability and for that LCA needs to include all potential impacts on humans and the environment. Currently, quantifying the
    toxicity potential of several thousand organic substances and certain cationic metals is included in existing characterization models within life cycle impact assessment (LCIA). However, a variety of additional inorganic substances used e.g. in the textile, personal care, and building and construction industry are included neither in current life cycle inventory databases, nor current LCIA methods. Without the integration of the various economically relevant and potentially human toxic and/or ecotoxic inorganic substances such as inorganic salts, acids, bases and elements, however, no satisfying conclusions regarding the environmental sustainability of any technology containing any of these substances can be drawn. We provide an overview of different substance groups already incorporated in LCIA toxicity characterization modeling, the economic and environmental relevance of inorganic chemicals, and an outline of possible ways towards incorporating inorganic chemicals in LCIA toxicity characterization. The analysis of existing LCIA approaches of specific organic and inorganic chemical groups including PFASs, nanoparticles, salts causing salinization, and common ionic liquids show that the fate, exposure and effect modeling have to be adapted at various levels for the characterization of inorganic substances other than cationic metals. Differences in physicochemical properties and environmental fate and transformation processes of these specific substance groups compared to inorganic substance groups show that the existing LCIA model USEtox cannot be applied to inorganic substances without further modification towards including specific reaction- and process-kinetics. Possibly relevant chemical reaction pathways will be outlined as a necessary step toward improving the environmental fate and (human and ecosystem) exposure assessment of various inorganic substances. Also, we present an overview of the availability of ecotoxicity and human toxicity effect data for elements and inorganic compounds in state-of-the-art databases. An overview of how conventional toxicity effect data can be adapted and used for estimating toxicity-related effects of inorganic substances on humans and ecosystems will be provided.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationAbstract book of SETAC Europe 27th Annual Meeting
    Publication date2017
    Article number501
    Publication statusPublished - 2017
    EventSETAC Europe: 27th Annual Meeting – Environmental Quality Through Transdisciplinary Collaboration - Brussels, Belgium
    Duration: 7 May 201713 Jul 2017

    Conference

    ConferenceSETAC Europe: 27th Annual Meeting – Environmental Quality Through Transdisciplinary Collaboration
    CountryBelgium
    CityBrussels
    Period07/05/201713/07/2017

    Cite this

    Fantke, P., & Kirchhübel, N. (2017). Getting the chemicals right: Gaps and opportunities in addressing inorganics in life cycle assessment. In Abstract book of SETAC Europe 27th Annual Meeting [501]