Recent attempts to include adverse effects of pathogens on human health in life cycle assessment (LCA) have focused on integrating results obtained through quantitative microbial risk assessment (QMRA) as an impact category in LCA. This study aimed to investigate whether the use of QMRA can be an adequate way of integrating pathogen impact potential in LCA and to quantify how pathogen impact potential is affected by choices regarding model structure and mathematical relationships used.
This study was performed for the context of sewage sludge management and is based on pathogen concentrations in treated sludge reported in the literature. Eight reference pathogens were included in order to address important microbial groups. The pathogen impact potential associated with land application of sewage sludge was quantified based on a QMRA model for eight distinct exposure pathways. The modelling choices investigated were linearisation of dose-response and severity assessment and different modelling approaches and parameter choices in fate and exposure assessment.
Results and discussion
The linearisation of effect and severity assessment had a minor impact on the results for exposure pathways where pathogen doses were low but had a major impact where pathogen doses were high. The assumptions regarding fate and exposure conditions, such as pathogen decay time, number of individuals exposed and frequency of exposure, had a significant effect on overall pathogen impact potential. If pathogen impact potential is to be integrated in LCA, a range of different parameterisations for each exposure event may be warranted rather than only the one with the highest risk per individual exposed as commonly reported for QMRAs. This is also in line with the ordinary LCA practice of focusing on average rather than extreme conditions.
This study suggests that the use of QMRA can be an adequate way of integrating adverse effects of pathogens on human health in LCA. However, analysts should be careful when choosing model parameters such as the number of people exposed or the frequency of exposure, as LCA may require a different parameterisation than an ordinary risk assessment (RA). Therefore, a direct integration of the results of a QMRA study into LCA may be problematic. Also, in order to avoid potential bias, analysts should carefully consider whether or not pathogen impact potential and human toxicity potential need to be estimated based on a similar set of exposure pathways.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Aramaki T, Galal M, Hanaki K (2006) Estimation of reduced and increasing health risks by installation of urban wastewater systems. Water Sci Technol 53(9):247–252
Bengtsson M, Tillman A-M (2004) Actors and interpretations in an environmental controversy: the Swedish debate on sewage sludge use in agriculture. Resour Conserv Recycl 42:65–82
Bofill-Mas S, Albinana-Gimenez N, Clemente-Casares P, Hundesa A, Rodriguez-Manzano J, Allard A, Calvo M, Girones R (2006) Quantification and stability of human adenoviruses and polyomavirus JCPyV in wastewater matrices. Appl Environ Microbiol 72(12):7894–7896
Brooks JP, McLaughlin MR, Gerba CP, Pepper IL (2012) Land application of manure and class B biosolids: an occupational and public quantitative microbial risk assessment. J Environ Qual 41:2009–2023
Corominas L, Foley J, Guest JS, Hospido A, Larsen HF, Morera S, Shaw A (2013) Life cycle assessment applied to wastewater treatment: state of the art. Water Res 47:5480–5492
Eisenberg JN, Brookhart A, Rice G, Brown M, Colford JM Jr (2002) Disease transmission models for public health decision making: analysis of epidemic and endemic conditions caused by waterborne pathogens. Environ Health Perspect 110(8):783–790
Eisenberg JN, Soller JA, Scott J, Eisenberg DM, Colford JM Jr (2004) A dynamic model to assess microbial health risks associated with beneficial uses of biosolids. Risk Anal 24(1):221–236
Eisenberg JN, Moore K, Soller JA, Eisenberg DM, Colford JM Jr (2008) Microbial risk assessment framework for exposure to amended sludge projects. Environ Health Perspect 116(6):727–733
Gale P (2005) Land application of treated sewage sludge: quantifying pathogen risks from consumption of crops. J Appl Microbiol 98:380–396
Gao T, Wang XC, Chen R, Ngo HH, Guo W (2015) Disability adjusted life year (DALY): a useful tool for quantitative assessment of environmental pollution. Sci Total Environ 511:268–287
Goedkoop MJ, Heijungs R, Huijbregts M, De Schryver A, Struijs J, Van Zelm R (2009) ReCiPe 2008 A life cycle impact assessment method which comprises harmonised category indicators at the midpoint and the endpoint level. First edition Report I: Characterisation
Haas CN, Rose JB, Gerba CP (2014) Quantitative microbial risk assessment, 2nd edn. Wiley
Harder R, Heimersson S, Svanström M, Peters GM (2014) Including pathogen risk in life cycle assessment of wastewater management—part 1: estimating the burden of disease associated with pathogens. Environ Sci Technol 48(16):9338–9445
Harder R, Schoen M, Peters G (2015) Including pathogen risk in life cycle assessment of wastewater management. Implications for the choice of functional unit. Environ Sci Technol 49:14−15
Hauschild MZ, Goedkoop M, Guinée J, Heijungs R, Huijbregts M, Jolliet O, Margni M, De Schryver A, Humbert S, Laurent A, Sala S, Pant R (2013) Identifying best existing practice for characterization modeling in life cycle impact assessment. Int J Life Cycle Assess 18(3):683–697
Heimersson S, Harder R, Peters GM, Svanström M (2014) Including pathogen risk in life cycle assessment of wastewater management—part 2: quantitative comparison of potential impacts of pathogens to other impacts on human health. Environ Sci Technol 48(16):9446–9453
Henderson AD, Hauschild MZ, Van de Meent D, Huibregts MAJ, Larsen HF, Margni M, McKone TE, Payet J, Rosenbaum RK, Jolliet O (2011) USEtox fate and ecotoxicity factors for comparative assessment of toxic emissions in life cycle analysis: sensitivity to key chemical properties. Int J Life Cycle Ass 16:701–709
Huijbregts M, Hauschild M, Jolliet O, Margni M, McKone T, Rosenbaum RK, van de Meent D (2010) USEtox™ user manual
Kobayashi Y, Peters GM, Ashbolt NJ, Heimersson S, Svanström M, Khan SJ (2015) Global and local health burden trade-off through the hybridisation of quantitative microbial risk assessment and life cycle assessment to aid water management. Water Res 79:26–38
Larsen HF, Olsen SI, Hauschild M, Laurent A (2009) NEPTUNE, new sustainable concepts and processes for optimization and upgrading municipal wastewater and sludge treatment, Work Package 4—Assessment of environmental sustainability and best practice, Deliverable 4.2—Methodology for including specific biological effects and pathogen aspects into LCA. Lyngby, Denmark: Technical University of Denmark
Murray C (1994) Quantifying the burden of disease: the technical basis for disability-adjusted life years. B World Health Organ 72:429–445
Rosenbaum RK, Huijbregts MAJ, Henderson AD, Margni M, McKone TE, Van de Meent D, Hauschild MZ, Shaked S, Li DS, Gold LS, Jolliet O (2011) USEtox human exposure and toxicity factors for comparative assessment of toxic emissions in life cycle analysis: sensitivity analysis to key chemical properties. Int J Life Cycle Assess 16:710–727
Sales-Ortells H, Medema G (2015) Microbial health risks associated with exposure to stormwater in a water plaza. Water Res 74:34–46
Schoen ME, Xue X, Hawkins TR, Ashbolt NJ (2014) Comparative human health risk analysis of coastal community water and waste service options. Environ Sci Technol 48(16):9728–9736
Soller JA (2009) The potential implications of person-to-person transmission of viral infection for US EPA’s Groundwater Rule. J Water Health 7(2):208–223
Westrell T, Schönning C, Stenström TA, Ashbolt NJ (2004) QMRA (quantitative microbial risk assessment) and HACCP (hazard analysis and critical control points) for management of pathogens in wastewater and sewage sludge treatment and reuse. Water Sci Technol 50(2):23–30
Yoshida H, Christensen TH, Scheutz C (2013) Life cycle assessment of sewage sludge management: a review. Waste Manag Res 31(11):1083–1101
This project has received funding from the European Union’s Seventh Programme for research, technological development, and demonstration under grant agreement no. 265156 ROUTES and from the Swedish Research Council for Environment, Agricultural Sciences and Spatial Planning (FORMAS) under grant agreement no. 2012-1122.
Responsible editor: Ralph K. Rosenbaum
Electronic supplementary material
Below is the link to the electronic supplementary material.
(PDF 946 KB)
About this article
Cite this article
Harder, R., Peters, G.M., Molander, S. et al. Including pathogen risk in life cycle assessment: the effect of modelling choices in the context of sewage sludge management. Int J Life Cycle Assess 21, 60–69 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11367-015-0996-2
- Human toxicity
- Microbial risks