EU industrial air pollution cost up to €189 billion per year

 Turceni a lignite-fired power plant in Romania. Photo: Bankwatch/ BY-NC-SA

The cost of damage caused by pollutant emissions into the air from the largest 14,000 industrial facilities in 2012 has been estimated as at least €59-189 billion, and half of the total cost was caused by just one per cent of the industrial plants.

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

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 compounds and the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide.

Over the five-year period 2008–2012, the aggregated cost of damage from these emissions was between €329 billion and €1,053 billion.

Facilities covered by the analysis include large power plants, refineries, manufacturing combustion and industrial processes, waste and certain agricultural activities. It was found that the energy sector (power plants) contributed the largest share, about two-thirds, of the costs. Other significant contributions came from production processes and combustion in manufacturing.

Emissions from several sectors, such as transport, households and most agricultural activities, were excluded from the study. If these were included, the cost of air pollution would be even higher. For comparison, the European Commission recently estimated that solely the health damage costs from the main traditional air pollutants emitted from all sectors in the EU amounted to €330–940 billion for the emission levels of year 2010.

For traditional air pollutants, the EEA study estimated the cost of health damage by using damage costs per tonne of each emitted pollutant as a national average for each country. Specifically for mortality impacts, a lower and a higher value were used, 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 modelled carbon price forecasts for the EU’s Emissions Trading System (ETS), with a lower value of €9.5 per tonne and a higher value of €38.1 per tonne. While these figures are within the range of US$4–95 per tonne identified by the IPCC in 2007, they are significantly lower than figures calculated 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.

The proportion of CO2 damage costs as a fraction of the total damage costs varies widely, from 12 to 62 per cent, depending on valuation (higher or lower) used for the various pollutants.

Some key findings:

  • A small number of individual facilities cause the majority of damage costs. Three-quarters of the total costs were caused by the emissions from just 568 industrial facilities – four per cent of the total number (see figure 2).
  • The dirtiest plants are all coal-fired power stations, including Maritsa 2 in Bulgaria, Belchatow in Poland, Turceni in Romania, Jänschwalde in Germany, and Drax in the UK (see table).
  • Eight of the 30 dirtiest facilities are located in Germany; six in Poland; four in Romania; three each in Bulgaria and the United Kingdom; two in Greece; while the Czech Republic, Estonia, Italy and Slovakia all have one each.
  • Annual damage costs could be cut by at least €11-33 billion if the listed 1500 large combustion plants (LCPs) were to meet the emission limit values for SO2 and NOx set in the Industrial Emissions Directive.
  • If the listed 1500 LCPs were (hypothetically) to achieve the stricter BAT-associated emission levels for SO2 and NOx described in the 2006 LCP best available techniques reference document (BREF), annual damage costs could be cut by €19–55 billion.

The report reveals the very high cost caused by pollution from power stations and other large industrial plants, and the results will now feed into ongoing EU discussions on air quality legislation, including the revision of the LCP BREF and the revision of the National Emission Ceilings Directive.

Christer Ågren

The report “Costs of air pollution from European industrial facilities 2008–2012 – an updated assessment.” EEA Technical Report No 20/2014 (25 November 2014).
Link EEA:
Link EEB:

Figure 1. Locations of the 147 E-PRTR facilities that caused half the total damage costs in 2008–2012.

Figure 2. Cumulative distribution of the 2,000 E-PRTR facilities with the highest damage costs 2008–2012.


Table. The top twenty plants estimated to have the greatest damage costs from air pollutant emissions in 2008–2012.

Number Facility name Country Activity Aggregated damage cost 2008–2012 (EUR2005 million)
1 Maritsa 2 Bulgaria Thermal power station 7,465-22,394
2 Bełchatów Poland   Thermal power station 5,997-14,126
3 Turceni Romania Thermal power station 4,916-13,761
4 Jänschwalde Germany Thermal power station 3,498-8,165
5 Drax United Kingdom Thermal power station 3,482-8,039
6 Rovinari Romania        Thermal power station 3,198-8,844
7 Turów Poland        Thermal power station 2,797-6,925
8 Kozienice Poland Thermal power station 2,667-6,580
9 Niederaußem Germany Thermal power station 2,276-4,172
10 Longannet           United Kingdom Thermal power station 2,226-5,761
11 Romag Termo Romania Thermal power station 2,117-6,022
12 Schwelgern    Germany Iron and steel production 2,048-5,316
13 Megalopolis A Greece Thermal power station  1,872-5,103
14 Rybnik Poland Thermal power station 1,870-4,574
15 Lippendorf  Germany Thermal power station 1,832-4,368
16 Boxberg   Germany Thermal power station 1,829-3,976
17 Mintia Romania Thermal power station 1,819-5,066
18 Nováky Slovakia Thermal power station 1,814-5,003
19 Prunéřov Czech Republic Thermal power station 1,690-4,063
20 Neurath Germany  Thermal power station 1,670-2,975

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