Human Health Risk Assessment Methods for PV, Part 3: Module Disposal Risks: IEA PVPS Task 12: PV Sustainability

Parikhit Sinha, Garvin Heath, Andreas Wade, Keiichi Komoto

Research output: NRELTechnical Report


End-of-life management is important for addressing large future photovoltaic (PV) waste volumes and conserving raw materials for use in new PV modules. In regions without regulatory mandates for PV recycling, end-of-life PV modules can be disposed in accordance with general waste laws. Given the use of various metals as raw materials in semiconductor compounds and electrical contacts in commercial PV modules, some stakeholders have raised concerns regarding potential environmental impacts if PV modules are subject to improper disposal instead of being recycled or disposed in sanitary landfills, as is required in most world regions. To evaluate these concerns, screening-level risk assessment methods are developed herein that evaluate potential human health risks from groundwater and surface (air, soil, surface water) exposure pathways. The methods estimate potential impacts from disposal of end-of-life (EOL) PV modules in non-sanitary landfills under the following worst-case conditions: no leachate collection or groundwater monitoring, no liner for preventing leachate migration, uncovered waste, and lack of stormwater management. Examining worst-case conditions allows the exploration of maximum potential risk to attempt to ensure disposal does not increase health risk above regulatory thresholds. Specifically, this report presents an analysis of potential human health risks associated with non-sanitary landfill disposal for three PV technologies, focusing on release of the highest-prioritized chemical element for each: lead (Pb) in crystalline-silicon (c-Si) PV modules, cadmium (Cd) in thin film cadmium telluride (CdTe) PV modules, and selenium (Se) in thin film copper indium selenide (CIS) PV modules. The prioritization of these chemical elements for analysis is based on stakeholder interest. Because the methodology is chemical-specific, the risk assessment results for these chemicals cannot be directly generalized to other chemicals, although the risk assessment methodology can be applied to other chemicals. If the chemicals chosen are indeed the ones presenting greatest risk, then the results herein should represent the upper bound of health risk from exposure to a single constituent.
Original languageAmerican English
Number of pages50
StatePublished - 2020

Bibliographical note

NREL's Garvin Heath is a task manager of IEA PVPS Task 12

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/TP-6A20-76539

Other Report Number

  • Report IEA-PVPS T12-16:2020


  • cadmium
  • health impact
  • landfill
  • lead
  • photovoltaic
  • selenium
  • toxicity


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