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Evaluating Human and Ecological Impacts of a Product Life Cycle: The Complementary Roles of Life-Cycle Assessment and Risk Assessment

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Life-cycle assessment (LCA) is a tool for evaluating various health and environmental impacts throughout a product's life. When used as a screening tool, LCA can potentially identify the processes and materials most likely to pose a threat to human health and the environment, and to determine where a risk assessment is warranted. The European Union has issued a ban on lead-based solder from use in electronic equipment beginning in July 2006. In response, the Lead-Free Solder Partnership, involving the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, several electronics manufacturers, and the University of Tennessee afforded a vehicle for conducting a thorough LCA of leaded and lead-free solders used in the electronics industry. Sixteen impact categories were evaluated in the LCA, including human toxicity. A primary conclusion of the assessment for human and aquatic toxicity, across the entire life cycle of tin-lead solder, was the potential for impacts derived from the landfilling of lead. These results, based on broad assumptions about exposure, suggest that a more detailed risk assessment of the landfilling process would assist in better understanding the potential for health and environmental risks. We believe LCA data can be used to identify the need for focused risk assessments, allowing the two tools to effectively complement one another. Use of both methods could assist in understanding the effectiveness of the European ban on lead solder and its potential to improve public health.

Keywords: electronics industry; lead-free solders; life-cycle assessment (LCA); life-cycle impact assessment (LCIA); risk assessment (RA); toxicity

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Abt Associates, Bethesda, Maryland, USA 2: University of Tennessee, Center for Clean Products and Clean Technologies, Knoxville, Tennessee, USA

Publication date: 2006-06-01

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