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A cradle-to-grave life cycle assessment is done to identify the environmental impacts of chromated copper arsenate (CCA)-treated timber used for highway guard rail posts, to understand the processes that contribute to the total impacts, and to determine how the impacts compare to the primary alternative product, galvanized steel posts. Guard rail posts are the supporting structures for highway guard rails. Transportation engineers, as well as public and regulatory interests, have increasing need to understand the environmental implications of guard rail post selection, in addition to factors such as costs and service performance. This study uses a life cycle inventory (LCI) to catalogue the input and output data from guard rail post manufacture, service life, and disposition, and a life cycle impact assessment (LCIA) to assess anthropogenic and net greenhouse gas (GHG), acidification, smog, ecotoxicity, and eutrophication potentially resulting from life cycle air emissions. Other indicators of interest also are tracked, such as fossil fuel and water use. Comparisons of guard rail post products are made at a functional unit of one post per year of service. This life cycle assessment (LCA) finds that the manufacture, use, and disposition of CCA-treated wood guard rails offers lower fossil fuel use and lower anthropogenic and net GHG emissions, acidification, smog potential, and ecotoxicity environmental impacts than impact indicator values for galvanized steel posts. Water use and eutrophication impact indicator values for CCA-treated guard rail posts are greater than impact indicator values for galvanized steel guard rail posts.
Creosote-treated wooden railroad crossties have been used for more than a century to support steel rails and to transfer load from the rails to the underlying ballast while keeping the rails at the correct gauge. As transportation engineers look for improved service life and environmental performance in railway systems, alternatives to the creosote-treated wooden crosstie are being considered. This paper compares the cradle-to-grave environmental life cycle assessment (LCA) results of creosote-treated wooden railroad crossties with the primary alternative products: concrete and plastic composite (P/C) crossties. This LCA includes a life cycle inventory (LCI) to catalogue the input and output data from crosstie manufacture, service life, and disposition, and a life cycle impact assessment (LCIA) to evaluate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, fossil fuel and water use, and emissions with the potential to cause acidification, smog, ecotoxicity, and eutrophication. Comparisons of the products are made at a functional unit of 1.61 kilometers (1.0 mile) of rail-road track per year. This LCA finds that the manufacture, use, and disposition of creosote-treated wooden railroad crossties offers lower fossil fuel and water use and lesser environmental impacts than competing products manufactured of concrete and P/C.