The International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment

, Volume 20, Issue 9, pp 1232–1242 | Cite as

Suspended solids in freshwater systems: characterisation model describing potential impacts on aquatic biota

  • Paula Quinteiro
  • Ana Cláudia Dias
  • António Araújo
  • João L. T. Pestana
  • Bradley G. Ridoutt
  • Luís Arroja



High concentration of suspended solids (SS)—fine fraction of eroded soil particles—reaching lotic environments and remaining in suspension by turbulence can be a significant stressor affecting the biodiversity of these aquatic systems. However, a method to assess the potential effects caused by SS on freshwater species in the life cycle impact assessment (LCIA) phase still remains a gap. This study develops a method to derive endpoint characterisation factors, based on a fate and effect model, addressing the direct potential effects of SS in the potential loss of aquatic invertebrate or algae and macrophyte species.


Characterisation factors for the assessment of the direct effects of SS in the potential disappearance of macroinvertebrates, algae and macrophytes in 22 different European river sections were derived by combining both fate and effect factors. Fate factors reflect the environmental residence time of SS in river sections per unit of water volume in this same section. Effect factors were calculated from an empirical relationship between the potentially disappeared fraction (PDF) of aquatic species and the concentration of SS. These factors were determined based on a concentration-response function, on gross soil erosion data and detrimental concentrations of SS for different taxa in river sections.

Results and discussion

The product of fate with effect factors constitutes the characterisation factors for both macroinvertebrates, algae and macrophytes. The estimated EFs are higher for macroinvertebrates in almost all river sections under study, showing that the potential effects caused by SS throughout the water column are higher for macroinvertebrates than for algae and macrophytes. For macroinvertebrates, characterisation factors range between 2.8 × 10− 7 and 3.1 × 10− 3 PDF m3 day mg−1, whereas for algae and macrophytes, they range between 1.6 × 10− 7 and 4.7 × 10− 4 PDF m3 day mg−1.


The developed method and the derived characterisation factors enable a consistent assessment and comparison of the potential detrimental effects of SS on aquatic invertebrate and macrophyte communities at different locations. Long-term, on-site monitoring of SS levels in the water column should be performed to understand the magnitude of the effects of SS on aquatic biota and to determine the taxa that are more sensitive to the SS stressor. This monitoring will improve the robustness of the proposed LCA method, the reliability of the characterisation factors, as well as the development of characterisation factors for a wider range of rivers.


Algae and macrophyte communities Erosion Fate and effect modelling Life cycle impact assessment Macroinvertebrates Water footprint Water quality 



Thanks are due to FCT (Science and Technology Foundation—Portugal) and POHP/FSE funding programme for the scholarships granted to Paula Quinteiro (SFRH/BD/78690/2011) and João Pestana (SFRH/BPD/45342/2008).


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Environment and Planning, Centre for Environmental and Marine Studies (CESAM)University of AveiroAveiroPortugal
  2. 2.School of Engineering and TechnologyUniversity Lusíada of Vila Nova de FamalicãoVila Nova de FamalicãoPortugal
  3. 3.Department of Biology, CESAMUniversity of AveiroAveiroPortugal
  4. 4.Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), Agriculture FlagshipClayton SouthAustralia

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