Industrial air pollution cost region over €100 billion in 2009, says EEA

Air pollution from the 10,000 largest polluting facilities in Europe cost citizens between €102 billion and €169 billion in 2009 reveals the European Environment Agency (EEA) in a new report analysing the costs of harm to health and the environment caused by air pollution. Half of the total damage cost (between €51 billion and €85 billion) was caused by just 191 facilities.
Industrial air pollution cost region over €100 billion in 2009, says EEA

The EEA has published its latest report entitled ‘Revealing the costs of air pollution from industrial facilities in Europe’, which it explains reveals some of the hidden costs of pollution by using existing tools employed by policy-makers to estimate harm to health and the environment.

“Our analysis reveals the high cost caused by pollution from power stations and other large industrial plants,” Professor Jacqueline McGlade, EEA Executive Director, said. “The estimated costs are calculated using the emissions reported by the facilities themselves. 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”, added Professor McGlade.

The industrial facilities covered by the analysis include large power plants, refineries, manufacturing combustion and industrial processes, waste and certain agricultural activities. Emissions from power plants contributed the largest share of the damage costs (estimated at €66–112 billion). Other significant contributions to the overall damage costs came from production processes (€23–28 billion) and manufacturing combustion (€8–21 billion). Sectors excluded from the EEA analysis include transport, households and most agicultural activities – if these were included the cost of pollution would be even higher.

Key findings:

  • Air pollution by the facilities covered by EEA’s analysis cost every European citizen approximately € 200-330 on average in 2009.
  • Countries such as Germany, Poland, the United Kingdom, France and Italy, where a high number of large facilities are located, contribute the most to the total damage costs. However, when damage costs are weighted in an attempt to reflect the productivity of national economies, the ordering of countries changes significantly. The emissions from countries such as Bulgaria, Romania, Estonia, Poland and the Czech Republic are then relatively more important with regard to the damage costs.
  • 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 – 6 % of the total number. The facilities with emissions associated with a high damage cost are in most cases some of the largest facilities in Europe which release the greatest amount of pollutants.
  • Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions contribute the most to the overall damage costs, approximately €63 billion in 2009. Air pollutants, which contribute to acid rain and can cause respiratory problems - sulphur dioxide (SO2), ammonia (NH3), particulate matter (PM10) and nitrogen oxides (NOx) - were found to cause €38-105 billion of damage a year.

The report uses publicly-available data from the European Pollutant Release and Transfer Register (E-PRTR). The analysis builds on existing policy tools and methods, such as the methods developed under the EU’s Clean Air for Europe (CAFE) programme. Based on the different methodologies, it calculates a range of estimated damage costs arising from air pollutant releases reported by nearly 10 000 individual facilities to the E‑PRTR.

The pollutants examined are regional air pollutants (NH3, NOx, PM10, SO2, volatile organic compounds (NMVOCs)), heavy metals (arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead, mercury and nickel), organic micropollutants (benzene, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and dioxins & furans), and CO2.

Certain aspects of harm to health and the environment are excluded from the scope of this study, such as the health and safety aspects associated with occupational exposure to air pollutants. For regional air pollutants for example, the model framework underpinning the assessment should be extended in the future to include aspects such as a valuation of ecological impacts and acid damage to culturally significant buildings and monuments. The recognised benefits of industrial facilities, including manufacturing products, employment and tax revenues, are not addressed in the report.

It is important to note that the report does not assess whether the emissions from industrial facilities included in the E-PRTR are consistent with the legal permitting conditions for the operation of these plants. The EEAA has also produced a summary of the report for policymakers.

The EEA has recently released a number of other publications addressing various aspects of air pollution in Europe. These include the  ‘Air Quality in Europe – 2011’ report summarising Europe’s air quality status, the ‘Transport and Environment Reporting Mechanism (TERM)’ report that explores the environmental impact of transport, and ‘Air pollution impacts from carbon capture and storage (CCS)’ assessing the potential impacts on air pollutants from the introduction of CCS in Europe.

[Inset: Locations of the 191 E-PRTR facilities that contributed 50 % of the total damage costs estimated in 2009]

For additional information:

Revealing the costs of air pollution from industrial facilities in Europe

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