Human Toxicological Impacts in Life Cycle Assessment of Circular Economy of the Built Environment: A Case Study of Denmark

Caroline Wielandt Egemose, Diane Bastien, Xavier Fretté, Morten Birkved*, Joshua L. Sohn

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review

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The circular economy has become an important topic in the building industry, and life cycle assessment (LCA) is often used to quantify its benefits. Through chemical analysis, this article demonstrates that the current LCA is not yet well-adapted to assess the circular economy of building materials and components. It is shown that current inventory data and models are insufficient because they do not consider the uptake and emission of chemicals during use, the migration of chemicals within the value chain across the multiple phases in the circular economy, and because current characterization models lack a large fraction of the potentially emitted chemicals from said uptake and emission identified in the tested building material samples. Thus, it is shown that impacts relevant for LCA in the circular economy of buildings remain unaddressed because they are currently either omitted in the LCA that covers a limited number of impact indicators, or are ostensibly covered in the LCA covering a full set of indicators but missed due to inadequate characterization models. To ameliorate this, a definition of embedded toxicity and its relationship to the toxicological footprint is presented and a method for measurement is proposed, illustrating how assessing embedded toxicity can yield information for facilitating safe building-material reuse. Finally, a suggestion for the improvement of life cycle impact assessment methods is proposed.

Original languageEnglish
Article number130
Issue number2
Number of pages19
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland.


  • Building materials
  • Buildings
  • Circular economy
  • Embedded toxicity
  • Embodied toxicity
  • Human health
  • Indoor air quality
  • Life cycle assessment
  • Life cycle impact assessment
  • Toxicity


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