, Volume 9, Issue 3, pp 199-214
Date: 08 May 2007

A life cycle methodology for mapping the flows of pollutants in the urban environment

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This paper presents an integrated life cycle methodology for mapping the flows of pollutants in the urban environment, following the pollutants from their sources through the environment to receptors. The sources of pollution that can be considered by this methodology include products, processes and human activities. Life cycle assessment (LCA), substance flow analysis (SFA), fate and transport modelling (F&TM) and geographical information systems (GIS) have been used as tools for these purposes. A mathematical framework has been developed to enable linking and integration of LCA and SFA. The main feature of the framework is a distinction between the foreground and background systems, where the foreground system includes pollution sources of primary interest in the urban environment and the background comprises all other supporting activities occurring elsewhere in the life cycle. Applying the foreground–background approach, SFA is used to track specific pollutants in the urban environment (foreground) from different sources. LCA is applied to quantify emissions of a number of different pollutants and their impacts in both the urban (foreground) and in the wider environment (background). Therefore, two “pollution vectors" are generated: one each by LCA and SFA. The former comprises all environmental burdens or impacts generated by a source of interest on a life cycle basis and the latter is defined by the flows of a particular burden (substance or pollutant) generated by different sources in the foreground. The vectors are related to the “unit of analysis" which represents a modified functional unit used in LCA and defines the level of activity of the pollution source of interest. A further methodological development has also included integration of LCA and SFA with F&TM and GIS. A four-step methodology is proposed to enable spatial mapping of pollution from sources through the environment to receptors. The approach involves the use of GIS to map sources of pollution, application of the LCA–SFA approach to define sources of interest and quantify environmental burdens and impacts on a life-cycle basis. This is followed by F&TM to track pollution through the environment and by the quantification of site-specific impacts on human health and the environment. The application of the integrated methodology and the mathematical framework is illustrated by a hypothetical example involving four pollution sources in a city: incineration of MSW, manufacture of PVC, car travel and truck freight.