EU industrial air pollution cost up to €169 billion

The cost of damage caused by pollutant emissions into the air from the largest 10,000 industrial facilities in 2009 has been estimated as at least €102-169 billion, and half of the total damage cost was caused by just 191 facilities.

Based on data from the European Pollutant Release and Transfer Register (E-PRTR), a recent study1 published by the European Environment Agency (EEA) assessed the damage cost to health and the environment from pollutants emitted from industrial facilities in the EU 27 member states and Norway.

Many different air pollutants were covered, including the traditional regional air pollutants (sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, particulate matter, ammonia and volatile organic compounds), heavy metals, organic micro-pollutants and the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide.

Facilities covered by the analysis include large power plants, refineries, manufacturing combustion and industrial processes, waste and certain agricultural activities. It was found that power plants contributed the largest share of the damage costs (€66–112 billion). Other significant contributions came from production processes (€23–28 billion) and manufacturing combustion (€8–21 billion).

Emissions from several sectors, such as transport, households and most agricultural activities, were excluded from the study. If these are included, the cost of air pollution would be even higher.

For comparison, the EU’s Clean Air For Europe (CAFE) programme estimated the damage costs from traditional air pollutants emitted from all sectors in the then EU 25 member states to amount to €280-794 billion for the emission levels of year 2000.

For traditional air pollutants, the EEA study estimated damage costs using the same methodology as in the CAFE programme, with damage costs per tonne emitted for each pollutant as a national average for each country. Specifically for mortality impacts, this results in a lower and a higher value, the former being based on the value of a life year lost (VOLY) and the latter on the value of a statistical life (VSL).

As it has proven very difficult to value damage to ecosystems in monetary terms, ecological damage from acidification, eutrophication or ground level ozone was not accounted for. Neither was air pollution damage to the cultural heritage.

Valuation of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions was based on a UK methodology, and set at €33.6 per tonne. While this figure is within the range of US$4-95 per tonne identified by the IPCC in 2007, it is significantly lower than figures calculated recently by the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI). According to the SEI’s worst-case calculations, the social cost of CO2 could be almost US$900 per tonne in 2010, rising to US$1,500 in 2050.

Some key findings:

  • Air pollution from the facilities covered by the analysis cost every European citizen approximately €200-330 on average in 2009.
  • A small number of individual facilities cause the majority of damage costs. Three quarters of the total damage costs were caused by the emissions from just 622 industrial facilities – six per cent of the total number (see figure 2).
  • The dirtiest plants are all coal-fired power stations, including Belchatow in Poland, Maritsa 2 in Bulgaria, Jänschwalde and Bergheim in Germany, Drax in the UK and Turceni in Romania (see table).
  • CO2 emissions account for about €63 billion, a significant proportion of the total costs, while damage caused by traditional air pollutants such as SO2, NOx and PM, is estimated at up to €105 billion.

Professor Jacqueline McGlade, EEA Executive Director, said: “Our analysis reveals the high cost caused by pollution from power stations and other large industrial plants. By using existing tools employed by policy-makers to estimate harm to health and the environment, we revealed some of the hidden costs of pollution. We cannot afford to ignore these issues.”
The results of this analysis are expected to feed into ongoing EU discussions on resource efficiency, air quality and the low-carbon roadmap. Later this year, the EEA plans to publish an assessment of the potential for further reducing air pollutant emissions from large combustion plants.

Christer Ågren

1The EEA report “Revealing the costs of air pollution from industrial facilities in Europe” and a “Summary for policy makers”

Figure 1. Locations of the 191 E-PRTR facilities that caused half the total damage costs in 2009

Figure 2. Cumulative distribution of the 2,000 E-PRTR facilities with the highest damage costs

Table: The top twenty plants estimated to have the greatest damage costs from air pollutant emissions in 2009.

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