Freshwater ecotoxicity characterization factors for aluminum

  • Nilima Gandhi
  • Miriam L. Diamond



Aluminum (Al) is an abundant, non-essential element with complex geochemistry and aquatic toxicity. Considering its complex environmental behavior is critical for providing a reasonable estimate of its potential freshwater aquatic ecotoxicity in the context of Life Cycle Impact Assessment (LCIA).


Al characterization factors (CFs) are calculated using the following: (1) USEtox model version 2.1 for environmental fate, (2) MINEQL+ to estimate the distribution of Al between the solid phase precipitate and total dissolved Al, (3) WHAM 7 for Al speciation within the total dissolved phase, and (4) Biotic Ligand Model (BLM) and Free Ion Activity Model (FIAM) for ecotoxicity estimation for seven freshwater archetypes and default landscape properties for the European continent. The sensitivity of the CFs to aquatic chemistry parameters is calculated. New CFs are compared with Dong et al. (Chemosphere 112:26–33, 2014) and default CF calculated by USEtox 2.1.

Results and discussion

Al CFs vary over 5 orders of magnitude between the seven archetypes, with an arithmetic average CFave of 0.04 eq 1,4-DCB (recommended for use), geometric mean CFgeo of 0.0014 eq 1,4-DCB, and weighted average CFwt of 0.026 eq 1,4-DCB. These values are lower (less toxic) than those for Cu, Ni, Zn, and Pb (with one exception). The effect factor (EF) contributed most to this variability followed by the bioavailability factor (BF), varying over 8 and 4 orders of magnitude, respectively. These revised CFs are 2–6 orders of magnitude lower than those presented by Dong et al. (Chemosphere 112:26–33, 2014) mainly because of consideration of Al precipitation.


Freshwater archetype-specific Al CFs for freshwater ecotoxicity that address the effect of Al speciation on bioavailability (BF) and ecotoxicity (EF) have been calculated, and a CF of 0.04 eq 1,4-DCB is recommended for use in generic LCA. For site-specific LCA, the choice of water chemistry and, in particular, pH, and consideration of metal precipitation could significantly influence results.

Practical implications

Incorporating estimates of metal speciation and its effect on aquatic toxicity is essential when conducting LCIA. Along with metal speciation estimates, the values derived from the definition of water chemistry parameters must also be included into LCIA. For site-generic assessments, we recommend using the arithmetic average of metal CFs. We also recommend using FIAM as a suitable alternative to BLM to estimate EF if the latter is not available. Consideration of metal speciation is essential for providing more realistic estimates of Al freshwater ecotoxicity in the context of LCIA.


Aluminum Ambient chemistry Bioavailability Characterization factor (CF) Life Cycle Impact Assessment (LCIA) Metal speciation-complexation Metals 



We thank Bob Santore (HydroQual Inc.) and his group for sharing BLM parameters and chronic ecotoxicity test data for Al exposure to aquatic organisms. We also thank Eirik Nordheim (EAA), and Chris Bayliss and Pernelle Nunez (International Aluminium Institute) for support throughout the project, and for facilitating data for model calculations. Bill Adams (Rio Tinto) provided the FOREGS stream water monitoring data for EU.

Funding information

We acknowledge the funding from International Aluminium Institute (IAI) for this project.

Supplementary material

11367_2018_1451_MOESM1_ESM.docx (931 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 930 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Earth SciencesUniversity of TorontoTorontoCanada
  2. 2.Department of Physical and Environmental SciencesUniversity of Toronto ScarboroughScarboroughCanada

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