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Environ Sci Technol. 2008 Jul 1;42(13):4639-47.

Critical review: life-cycle inventory procedures for long-term release of metals.

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  • 1Industrial Ecology Programme, Department of Energy and Process Engineering, Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), NO-7491 Trondheim, Norway.


Life-cycle assessment (LCA) is the method of inventorying, assessing, and interpreting environmental interventions caused by products and product systems through their life cycle. The ecotoxicity of metals has proven a challenge for LCA given metal characteristics such as reversibility of removal processes, speciation, and the effect on bioavailability and ecotoxic effect assessment. Our review focuses on the first part of the ecotoxic impact chain for metals, i.e., the release of metals from solid deposits. According to the principle of temporal justice, sustainability assessment tools such as LCA should accountfor emissions regardless of temporal location distribution. This is in LCA commonly interpreted as leaching until depletion of metals bound in solid wastes under the presumption that infinite time implies infinite weathering. This approach is risk conservative for metals and it hampers the use of LCA to assess remediation projects for soils and sediments contaminated by inorganic substances. We discuss metal significance and inventory issues in LCA, and review existing and proposed approachesto make LCA applicable to metal long-term emission.

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