Development of realistic environmental release factors based on measured data: Approach and lessons from the EU metal industry



The assessment of environmental exposure and risks associated with the production or use of a substance on an industrial site includes the estimation of the releases to the environment. In the absence of measured release data on the specific substance, a risk assessor would rely on default release factors to the environmental compartments as developed in international, national, or regional context. Because a wide variety of substances, processes, and uses has to be covered, default release factors are as a rule conservative, usually leading to significant overprediction of releases and hence to overpredicted environmental exposure concentrations and risks. In practice, unrealistic and worst-case predictions do not support a more efficient management of releases and risk. The objective of this article is to propose a more realistic approach to characterize the environmental releases from manufacture, processing, and downstream uses of the metals and their compounds. Although developed in the European Union (EU), this approach can also be used in other regions and in other chemical management systems addressing metals. A database consisting of more than 1300 recent (1993–2010), site-specific measured release factors to air and water of 18 different metals from various EU Member States was compiled and used to calculate average and reasonable worst-case release factors for multiple metal manufacture and industrial use processes. The parameters influencing releases to water were found to depend predominantly on life cycle step (manufacture and/or use), the sector and/or the solid–water partition coefficient (Kd). The release factors can be used as advanced tier instrument in environmental safety assessments, increasing the realism of the estimates while still keeping a sufficient level of conservatism. Integr Environ Assess Manag 2014;10:529–538. © 2014 SETAC