, Volume 9, Issue 5, pp 327-332

The potential role of life cycle assessment in regulation of chemicals in the European union

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Scope and Background

This paper presents the preliminary results from an ongoing feasibility study, investigating potential application of elements from the life cycle assessment (LCA) framework in European chemicals’ policy. Many policy areas affect manufacturing, marketing and use of chemicals. This article focuses on the general chemical legislation, especially issues related to regulatory risk assessment and subsequent decisions on risk reduction measures.


Current and upcoming chemical regulation has been reviewed and empirical knowledge has been gained from an ongoing case study and from dialogues with various stakeholders.

Results and Discussion

LCAs are comparative and more holistic in view as compared to chemical risk assessments for regulatory purposes1. LCAs may therefore potentially improve the basis for decisions between alternatives in cases where a risk assessment calls for risk reduction. In this process, LCA results might feed into a socio-economic analysis having similar objectives, but some methodological aspects related to system boundaries need to be sorted out. Life cycle impact assessment (LCIA) of toxic effects has traditionally been inspired by the more regulatory-orientated risk assessment approaches. However, the increasing need for regulatory priority setting and comparative/ cumulative assessments might in the future convey LCIA principles into the regulatory framework. The same underlying databases on inherent properties of chemicals are already applied in both types of assessment. Similarly, data on the use and exposure of chemicals are needed within both risk assessments and LCA, and the methodologies might therefore benefit from a joint ‘inventory’ database.


The final outcome of the feasibility study will be an implementation plan suggesting incorporation of core findings in future chemical regulation and related policy areas.