Rethinking Environmental Performance from a Public Health Perspective: A Comparative Industry Analysis


  • Dinah A. Koehler,

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    • Project officer at the U.S. Environmental Agency's Office of Research and Development, National Center for Environmental Research in the Economics and Decision Sciences section in Washington, DC, USA. This work was completed while she was a doctoral student at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, MA, USA and a postdoc at The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA, USA.

  • Deborah H. Bennett,

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    • Assistant professor in the Department of Public Health Sciences at the University of California, Davis.

  • Gregory A. Norris,

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    • Founded and directs Sylvatica, an industrial ecology consulting firm in North Berwick, ME, USA. He is also an adjunct professor at the Complex Systems Research Center of the University of New Hampshire and he teaches courses on LCA and industrial ecology at the Harvard School of Public Health.

  • John D. Spengler

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    • Akira Yamaguchi Professor of Environmental Health and Human Habitation in the Department of Environmental Health at the Harvard School of Public Health.

Economics and Decision Sciences Research, National Center for Environmental Research, 8722F, 1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20460 USA <>


To date the most common measures of environmental performance used to compare industries, and by extension firms or facilities, have been quantity of pollution emitted or hazardous waste generated. Discharge information, however, does not necessarily capture potential health effects. We propose an alternative environmental performance measure that includes the public health risks of toxic air emissions extended to industry supply chains using economic input-output life-cycle assessment. Cancer risk to the U.S. population was determined by applying a damage function to the Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) as modeled by CalTOX, a multimedia multipathway fate and exposure model. Risks were then translated into social costs using cancer willingness to pay. For a baseline emissions year of 1998, 260 excess cancer cases were calculated for 116 TRI chemicals, dominated by ingestion risk from polycyclic aromatic compounds and dioxins emitted by the primary aluminum and cement industries, respectively. The direct emissions of a small number of industry sectors account for most of the U.S. population cancer risk. For the majority of industry sectors, however, cancer risk per $1 million output is associated with supply chain upstream emissions. Ranking industries by total (direct + upstream) supply chain risk per economic output leads to different conclusions about the relative hazards associated with these industries than a conventional ranking based on emissions per economic output.