Life cycle human health impacts of 875 pesticides

  • Peter FantkeEmail author
  • Olivier Jolliet



Residues in field crops grown and harvested for human consumption are the main contributor to overall human exposure toward agricultural pesticides for the general population. However, exposure from crop residues is currently not considered in life cycle assessment practice. We therefore present a consistent framework for characterizing human toxicological impacts associated with pesticides applied to agricultural crops in the frame of life cycle impact assessment based on state-of-the-art data and methods.


We combine a dynamic multicrop plant uptake model designed for evaluating human exposure to residues for a wide range of pesticide-crop combinations with latest findings of pesticide dissipation kinetics in crops and post-harvest food processing. Outcome is a set of intake fractions and characterization factors for 875 organic pesticides and six major food crops along with specific confidence intervals for each factor.

Results and discussion

Intake fractions aggregating exposure via crop residues and exposure via fractions lost to air and soil for pesticides applied to agricultural crops vary between 10−8 and 10−1 kg intake per kilogram applied as a function of pesticide and crop. Intake fractions are typically highest for lettuce and tomato and lowest for potato due to differences in application times before crop harvest and soil as additional barrier for uptake into potato tubers. Uncertainty in intake fractions is mainly associated with dissipation dynamics in crops, where results demonstrate that using pesticide- and crop-specific data is crucial. Combined with the uncertainty in effect modeling, characterization factors per pesticide and crop show squared geometric mean standard deviations ranging from 38 to 15,560 over a variability range across pesticide-crop combinations of 10 orders of magnitude.


Our framework is operational for use in current life cycle impact assessment models, is made available for USEtox, and closes an important gap in the assessment of human exposure to pesticides. For ready use in life cycle assessment studies, we present pesticide-crop combination-specific characterization factors normalized to pesticide mass applied and provide default data for application times and loss due to post-harvest food processing. When using our data, we emphasize the need to consult current pesticide regulation, since each pesticide is registered for use on certain crops only, which varies between countries.


dynamiCROP plant uptake model Food crop consumption Human toxicity characterization factors Life cycle impact assessment (LCIA) Intake fractions Pesticides 



This work was financially supported by the Marie Curie project Quan-Tox (grant agreement no. 631910) funded by the European Commission under the Seventh Framework Programme.

Supplementary material

11367_2015_910_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (261 kb)
ESM 1 (PDF 261 kb)
11367_2015_910_MOESM2_ESM.xlsx (1.6 mb)
ESM 2 (XLSX 1651 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Quantitative Sustainability Assessment Division, Department of Management EngineeringTechnical University of DenmarkKgs. LyngbyDenmark
  2. 2.Environmental Health Sciences, School of Public HealthUniversity of MichiganAnn ArborUSA
  3. 3.QuantisLausanneSwitzerland

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