Ecosystem quality is an important area of protection in life cycle impact assessment (LCIA). Chemical pollution has adverse impacts on ecosystems on a global scale. To improve methods for assessing ecosystem impacts, the Life Cycle Initiative hosted by the United Nations Environment Programme established a task force to evaluate the state-of-the-science in modeling chemical exposure of organisms and the resulting ecotoxicological effects for use in LCIA. The outcome of the task force work will be global guidance and harmonization by recommending changes to the existing practice of exposure and effect modeling in ecotoxicity characterization. These changes will reflect the current science and ensure the stability of recommended practice. Recommendations must work within the needs of LCIA in terms of 1) operating on information from any inventory reporting chemical emissions with limited spatiotemporal information, 2) applying best estimates rather than conservative assumptions to ensure unbiased comparison with results for other impact categories, and 3) yielding results that are additive across substances and life cycle stages and that will allow a quantitative expression of damage to the exposed ecosystem. We describe the current framework and discuss research questions identified in a roadmap. Primary research questions relate to the approach toward 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, we give metals a special focus, including 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.
- Ecosystem exposure
- Environmental modeling
- Life cycle impact assessment
- Species sensitivity distributions