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Are stormwater pollution impacts significant in life cycle assessment? A new methodology for quantifying embedded urban stormwater impacts

Phillips, Robert, Jeswani, Harish Kumar, Azapagic, Adisa, Apul, Defne
The Science of the total environment 2018 v.636 pp. 115-123
case studies, construction materials, databases, ecotoxicology, electricity generation, environmental impact, eutrophication, freshwater, humans, inventories, life cycle assessment, models, pollutants, pollution, stormwater, toxicity, urban areas
Current life cycle assessment (LCA) models do not explicitly incorporate the impacts from urban stormwater pollution. To address this issue, a framework to estimate the impacts from urban stormwater pollution over the lifetime of a system has been developed, laying the groundwork for subsequent improvements in life cycle databases and LCA modelling. The proposed framework incorporates urban stormwater event mean concentration (EMC) data into existing LCA impact categories to account for the environmental impacts associated with urban land occupation across the whole life cycle of a system. It consists of five steps: (1) compilation of inventory of urban stormwater pollutants; (2) collection of precipitation data; (3) classification and characterisation within existing midpoint impact categories; (4) collation of inventory data for impermeable urban land occupation; and (5) impact assessment. The framework is generic and can be applied to any system using any LCA impact method. Its application is demonstrated by two illustrative case studies: electricity generation and production of construction materials. The results show that pollutants in urban stormwater have an influence on human toxicity, freshwater and marine ecotoxicity, marine eutrophication, freshwater eutrophication and terrestrial ecotoxicity. Among these, urban stormwater pollution has the highest relative contribution to the eutrophication potentials. The results also suggest that stormwater pollution from urban areas can have a substantial effect on the life cycle impacts of some systems (construction materials), while for some systems the effect is small (e.g. electricity generation). However, it is not possible to determine a priori which systems are affected so that the impacts from stormwater pollution should be considered routinely in future LCA studies. The paper also proposes ways to incorporate stormwater pollution burdens into the life cycle databases.