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EEA says industrial air pollution cost Europe up to €169 billion in 2009; some 37% attributed to CO2

Aggregated damage costs by pollutant. The EEA quantified the damage costs arising from CO2 emissions based on estimated marginal abatement cost. Source: EEA. Click to enlarge.

Air pollution from the 10,000 largest polluting facilities in Europe cost citizens between €102–169 billion (US$135–224 billion) in 2009, according to a new report from the European Environment Agency (EEA) which analyzed the costs of harm to health and the environment caused by air pollution. Half of the total damage cost (between €51–85 billion) was caused by just 191 facilities.

The pollutants examined in the report, Revealing the costs of air pollution from industrial facilities in Europe, are the regional and local air pollutants ammonia (NH3), nitrogen oxides (NOx), non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOCs), particulate matter (PM10) and sulphur oxides (SOx); the heavy metals arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead, mercury and nickel; organic micro-pollutants including benzene, dioxins and furans, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs); and carbon dioxide (CO2).

There are differences between the selected pollutants in terms of the extent of current knowledge about how to evaluate their impacts. Understanding is most advanced in evaluating the health impacts of the major regional air pollutants, and builds on previous peer-reviewed analysis such as that undertaken to inform the CAFE Programme. This report’s analysis for these pollutants thus extends to quantifying crop and building material damage but does not include ecological impacts.

Impacts of heavy metals and persistent organic compounds on human health are also quantified, primarily in terms of additional cancer incidence. In some cases this requires analysis of exposure through consumption as well as through inhalation. Again, ecological damage is not accounted for and it should be noted that the health impact estimates for these pollutants have been subject to less scientific review and debate than those generated under CAFE.

Finally, a different approach was used to quantify the damage costs arising from CO2 emissions, based on estimated marginal abatement cost. Estimating the magnitude of costs associated with future climate change impacts is very uncertain. This uncertainty is unavoidable, as the extent of damage will be dependent on the future development of society, particularly with respect to population and economic growth, but also how much value is attached to future events. The approach used in this report, based on marginal abatement cost, is based on the existing approach used for public policy appraisal in the United Kingdom.

—Revealing the costs of air pollution from industrial facilities in Europe

Estimates of the European average damage cost per tonne emitted for selected air pollutants. (Log scale) Source: EEA. Click to enlarge.

Certain aspects of harm to health and the environment are excluded from the scope of the study, such as the health and safety aspects associated with occupational exposure to air pollutants. For regional air pollutants, 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 report suggests. The recognized benefits of industrial facilities, including manufacturing products, employment and tax revenues, are not addressed in the report.

The report provides a list of the individual facilities that contribute the most harm. The report does not assess whether the emissions from industrial facilities are consistent with the legal permitting conditions for the operation of these plants.

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 (US$87–148 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 agricultural activities—if these were included the cost of pollution would be even higher.

Other key findings of the report include:

  • Air pollution by the facilities covered by EEA’s analysis cost every European citizen approximately €200–330 (US$265–437) 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 emissions contribute the most to the overall damage costs, approximately €63 billion (US$83 billion) in 2009 (37% of the €169-billion figure). Air pollutants, which contribute to acid rain and can cause respiratory problems—sulfur dioxide (SO2), ammonia (NH3), particulate matter (PM10) and nitrogen oxides (NOx)—were found to cause €38-105 billion (US$50–139 billion) of damage a year.

  • The damage cost resulting from emitting one kg of organic micro-pollutants (e.g. dioxins and furans) is significantly higher than the damage cost from releasing one kg of CO2. The enormously larger amount of CO2 emitted (around a trillion times greater) means, however, that CO2 emissions contribute the most to total damage costs (followed by regional air pollutants, heavy metals and organic micro-pollutants).

  • Of the industrial sectors included in the pollutant register, emissions from power generation contribute the largest share of the total damage costs (estimated as at least €66–112 billion). Excluding CO2, the estimated damage costs from this sector are €26–71 billion (US$34–94 billion).

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) program. 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.




"EEA says industrial air pollution cost Europe up to €169 billion in 2009; some 37% attributed to CO2"

"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."

How would the US compare?

Often, juries decide cost responsibilities. Why would a jurist have his notes confiscated by a armed man in a US court?

HarveyD most cases, pollution reports are prepared by the polluters on a semi-voluntary basis. The accuracy of the pollutant emission reports is very questionable. Most, if not all, polluters purposely underestimate or don't fully measure or report all emissions. If would be fair to assume that the reported pollution represents between 25% and 50% of the real emissions.

The 6% reporting about 2/3 of the potential damage causing pollutants may have done a more honest (rare) reporting job.

That being said, the damages caused could be about three to four times higher than EEA's evaluations.

The margin of errors and omissions is probably even higher in USA and Canada. Fully independent emission measurements would reveal something closer to reality but would cost governments plenty unless all cost could be supported be polluters. Their very powerful lobbies would fight and stop any such perceived intrusions in their private affairs and right to pollute.


40% of primary energy is consumed by transport and this is not taken in to account??? That is ridiculous. And I shall admit that majority of transport means are not electrical and they do not have high stacks as power plants do.

On other hand I agree that power generation shall migrate to the nuclear since in case all power generation would be nuclear the environmental damages could be reduced dramatically. Even with one major Fukushima like accident in the world every year still it would be enormously beneficial to have 100% nuclear power generation.


Attribution of 37% to CO2 a trace atmospheric gas as a "pollutant?" Credibility = 0.

@Darius, how about a "nuclear" reaction without any radiation or fissile materials??

Henry Gibson

China could have been building more CANDU power plants after the on time and under budget construction of two eight years ago. Coal is cheap and there are few anti-nuclear power organizations that tell about the massive nuclear radiation released by coal fired and even natural gas fired power plants compared to the CANDU reactors.

Perhaps someone will compare the net amount of the radioactive isotopes released in a year during fossil fuel production and combustion compared with the number relased by the reactor destruction by the Tsunami in Japan. ..HG..


HarveyD, "in most cases, pollution reports are prepared by the polluters.." sounds like a guarantee for error, as does deciding a verdict without trial notes.


Yes is a good example of (garbage in = garbage out). Most if not all data is still collected by the polluters themselves. Government Agencies normalize and publish (post) the data or a regular basis.

The data supplied will only be questioned if it differs too much month to month or with another similar operations. If they all underestimate by, let's say 50%, the data goes through and is posted.

It is a lot like gasoline retail price in our area. It goes up and down at exactly the say time at ll pumps, with price fixing?

Stan Peterson

It is not surprising that Air p[pollution is a problem in Europe. That is what happens when you do NOTHING about it. Europe is only beginning to address toxic emissions in 2016 with EU VI regulations comparable to those of their USA in 1980.

All the Europeans have been doing is taxing CO2 which is not a toxic pollutant at all, or even a pollutant of any sort. While doing essentially nothing on genuine toxic emissions like CO, SOx, NOx, and Hydrocarbons.

They have also been proving that if CO2 is a pollutant then taxing it does little to reduce it. Regulations to decrease CO2 might, but the funds obtained by the Taxes were not used for that purpose. They were just poured into the collapsing Welfare State.

bye the way, the USA also will likely meet the Kyoto targets, that it never agreed to meet. CO2 emissions are below zero net, even while the approximate 3% that is man-made decline to 1990 levels.


SP...a very recent survey indicates that young drivers (16 to 25) in USA are progressively leaving FUN driving for Facebook and other activities. The majority does not even have a driver's license in many places.

The reasons for this drastic change are not very well known. Is it the high cost of fuel? The lack of good paying jobs? The higher cost of education? Other FUN games? High GHG and pollution from gas guzzlers? etc etc.

Will smaller future $10K EVs change that trend?

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