Human Toxicity

Olivier Jolliet, Peter Fantke

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingBook chapterResearchpeer-review


    This chapter reviews the human toxicological impacts of chemicals and how to assess these impacts in life cycle impact assessment (LCIA), in order to identify key processes and pollutants. The complete cause-effect pathway – from emissions of toxic substances up to damages on human health – demonstrates the importance to account for both outdoor and indoor exposure, including consumer products. Analysing the variations in intake fraction (the fraction of the emitted or applied chemical that is taken in by the consumer and the general population), effect factor and characterisation factor across all chemicals and impact pathways characterizes the contribution of each factor to the total variation of 10–12 orders of magnitude in impacts per kg across all chemicals. This large variation between characterisation factors for different chemicals as well as the 3 orders of magnitude uncertainty on characterisation factors means that results should by default be reported and interpreted in log scales when comparing scenarios or substance contribution! We conclude by outlining future trends in human toxicity modelling for LCIA, with promising developments for (a) better estimates of degradation halflives, (b) the inclusion of ionization of chemicals in human exposure including bioaccumulation, (c) metal speciation, (d) spatialised models to differentiate the variability associated with spatialisation from the uncertainty, and (e) the assessment of chemical exposure via consumer products and occupational settings. As a whole, the assessment of toxicity in LCA has progressed on a very sharp learning curve during the past 20 years. This rapid progression is expected to continue in the coming years, focusing more on direct exposure of workers to chemicals during manufacturing and of consumers during product use. The first section of this chapter outlines the complete cause-effect pathway, from emissions of toxic substances to intake by the population up to damages in terms of human health effects. Section 2 outlines the framework for assessing human toxicity in LCIA. Section 3 discusses the contributing substances and their coverage in LCIA methods. Section 4 provides an overview of the main LCIA methods available to address human toxicological impacts. Section 5 presents the range of variation of factor across chemicals, the main sources of uncertainty and good interpretation practice of results from human toxicity assessments. Section 6 finally discusses new developments and research needs.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationLife Cycle Impact Assessment
    EditorsMichael Z. Hauschild, Mark A.J. Huijbregts
    PublisherSpringer Science+Business Media
    Publication date2015
    ISBN (Print)978-94-017-9743-6
    ISBN (Electronic)978-94-017-9744-3
    Publication statusPublished - 2015
    SeriesLCA Compendium – The Complete World of Life Cycle Assessment


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