Global and local health burden trade-off through the hybridisation of quantitative microbial risk assessment and life cycle assessment to aid water management

Water Res. 2015 Aug 1;79:26-38. doi: 10.1016/j.watres.2015.03.015. Epub 2015 Mar 25.


Life cycle assessment (LCA) and quantitative risk assessment (QRA) are commonly used to evaluate potential human health impacts associated with proposed or existing infrastructure and products. Each approach has a distinct objective and, consequently, their conclusions may be inconsistent or contradictory. It is proposed that the integration of elements of QRA and LCA may provide a more holistic approach to health impact assessment. Here we examine the possibility of merging LCA assessed human health impacts with quantitative microbial risk assessment (QMRA) for waterborne pathogen impacts, expressed with the common health metric, disability adjusted life years (DALYs). The example of a recent large-scale water recycling project in Sydney, Australia was used to identify and demonstrate the potential advantages and current limitations of this approach. A comparative analysis of two scenarios - with and without the development of this project - was undertaken for this purpose. LCA and QMRA were carried out independently for the two scenarios to compare human health impacts, as measured by DALYs lost per year. LCA results suggested that construction of the project would lead to an increased number of DALYs lost per year, while estimated disease burden resulting from microbial exposures indicated that it would result in the loss of fewer DALYs per year than the alternative scenario. By merging the results of the LCA and QMRA, we demonstrate the advantages in providing a more comprehensive assessment of human disease burden for the two scenarios, in particular, the importance of considering the results of both LCA and QRA in a comparative assessment of decision alternatives to avoid problem shifting. The application of DALYs as a common measure between the two approaches was found to be useful for this purpose.

Keywords: Carbon footprint; Environmental impact; Water recycling; Water treatment.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Campylobacter jejuni
  • Communicable Diseases / epidemiology
  • Communicable Diseases / microbiology
  • Communicable Diseases / parasitology
  • Cryptosporidium parvum
  • Fresh Water / microbiology*
  • Fresh Water / parasitology*
  • Humans
  • Models, Biological
  • New South Wales
  • Quality-Adjusted Life Years*
  • Recycling / methods
  • Risk Assessment
  • Rotavirus
  • Wastewater / microbiology
  • Wastewater / parasitology
  • Water Purification / methods*
  • Water Purification / standards
  • Water Supply / methods
  • Water Supply / standards


  • Waste Water