Toward Harmonizing Ecotoxicity Characterization in Life Cycle Impact Assessment

Peter Fantke*, Nicolo Aurisano, Jane Bare, Thomas Backhaus, Cécile Bulle, Peter M. Chapman, Dick De Zwart, Robert Dwyer, Alexi Ernstoff, Laura Golsteijn, Hanna Holmquist, Olivier Jolliet, Thomas Edward McKone, Mikołaj Owsianiak, Willie Peijnenburg, Leo Posthuma, Sandra Roos, Erwan Saouter, Diederik Schowanek, Nico M van StraalenMartina G Vijver, Michael Zwicky Hauschild

*Corresponding author for this work

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    Ecosystem quality is an important area of protection in life cycle impact assessment (LCIA). Chemical pollution has adverse impacts on ecosystems at the global scale. To improve methods for assessing ecosystem impacts, the Life Cycle Initiative hosted at the United Nations Environment Programme established a task force to evaluate the state-of-the-science in modelling chemical exposure of organisms and resulting ecotoxicological effects for use in LCIA. Outcome of the task force work will be global guidance and harmonization by recommending changes to the existing practice in exposure and effect modelling in ecotoxicity characterization. These changes reflect the current science and ensure stability of recommended practice. Recommendations must work within the needs of LCIA in terms of (a) operating on information from any inventory reporting chemical emissions with limited spatiotemporal information, (b) applying best estimates rather than conservative assumptions to ensure unbiased comparison with results for other impact categories, and (c) yielding results that are additive across substances and life cycle stages and allow a quantitative expression of damage to the exposed ecosystem. Here, we report the current framework as well as discuss research questions identified in a roadmap. Primary research questions relate to the approach for ecotoxicological effect assessment, the need to clarify the method's scope and interpretation of its results, the need to consider additional environmental compartments and impact pathways, and the relevance of effect metrics other than the currently applied geometric mean of toxicity effect data across species. Because they often dominate ecotoxicity results in LCIA, metals pose a specific focus, which includes consideration of their possible essentiality and changes in environmental bioavailability. We conclude with a summary of key questions along with preliminary recommendations to address them as well as open questions that require additional research efforts. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.
    Original languageEnglish
    JournalEnvironmental Toxicology and Chemistry
    Issue number12
    Pages (from-to)2955-2971
    Number of pages17
    Publication statusPublished - 2018


    • Ecotoxicology
    • ecosystem exposure
    • environmental modeling
    • life cycle impact assessment
    • species sensitivity distributions

    Cite this

    Fantke, P., Aurisano, N., Bare, J., Backhaus, T., Bulle, C., Chapman, P. M., De Zwart, D., Dwyer, R., Ernstoff, A., Golsteijn, L., Holmquist, H., Jolliet, O., McKone, T. E., Owsianiak, M., Peijnenburg, W., Posthuma, L., Roos, S., Saouter, E., Schowanek, D., ... Hauschild, M. Z. (2018). Toward Harmonizing Ecotoxicity Characterization in Life Cycle Impact Assessment. Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, 37(12), 2955-2971.