Getting the chemicals right: Toward characterizing toxicity and ecotoxicity impacts of inorganic substances

Nienke Kirchhübel, Peter Fantke*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review

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Characterizing human and ecological exposure and toxicity impacts from emissions of chemical substances along life cycles of consumer products and industrial processes is an important building block in various decision support frameworks. Various products and processes involve the use of inorganic substances, such as inorganic salts, acids, and bases. However, except selected metal ions, inorganic substances are currently not included in any existing chemical toxicity characterization framework, leaving an important gap unaddressed in current assessments of environmental performance of products and services, chemical substitution, and substance prioritization. To address this gap, we provide initial guidance for identifying and characterizing toxicity-related impacts of currently unconsidered inorganic substances. Starting from a chemical classification of inorganic substances, we determine both the economic and environmental relevance of inorganic compounds currently registered under the European REACH regulation, and combine both to identify substances that should be prioritized for future toxicity characterization. Further, we provide an overview of current challenges and outline possible ways forward toward incorporating inorganic substances into toxicity characterization models. We identified approximately 90 inorganic high-priority substances that are both of high economic as well as of high environmental relevance. Current characterization methods need to be adapted and extended to account for the complex reaction chemistry and data limitations for effect quantification of inorganic substances. Future research is required that targets the inorganic reaction chemistries and that overcomes current data limitations. This will ultimately lead to a more comprehensive decision support in line with the global sustainability agenda set for chemicals management.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Cleaner Production
Pages (from-to)554-565
Publication statusPublished - 2019


  • Life cycle impact assessment
  • Inorganics
  • Environmental fate
  • Human and ecosystem exposure
  • Toxicity effects


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