Revealing the costs of air pollution from industrial facilities in Europe

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Courtesy of European Environment Agency (EEA)

This European Environment Agency (EEA) report assesses the damage costs to health and the environment resulting from pollutants emitted from industrial facilities. It is based on the latest information, namely for 2009, publicly available through the European Pollutant Release and Transfer Register (E-PRTR, 2011) in line with the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) Aarhus Convention regarding access to environmental information.

Air pollution continues to harm human health and our environment. One of the main findings of the EEA's The European environment — state and outlook 2010 report (EEA, 2010) was that, despite past reductions in emissions, air quality needs to further improve. Concentrations of certain air pollutants still pose a threat to human health. In 2005, the European Union's Clean Air for Europe (CAFE) programme estimated that the cost to human health and the environment from emissions of regional air pollutants across all sectors of the EU-25 economy equalled EUR 280-794 billion in the year 2000.

This report investigates the use of a simplified modelling approach to quantify, in monetary terms, the damage costs caused by emissions of air pollutants from industrial facilities reported to the E-PRTR pollutant register. In using E-PRTR data, this study does not assess whether the emissions of a given facility are consistent with its legal requirements. Nor does it assess the recognised economic and social benefits of industry (such as producing goods and products, and generating employment and tax revenues etc.).

The approach is based on existing policy tools and methods, such as those developed under the EU's CAFE programme for the main air pollutants. The CAFE-based methods are regularly applied in cost-benefit analyses underpinning both EU and international (e.g. UNECE) policymaking on air pollution. This study also employs other existing models and approaches used to inform policymakers about the damage costs of pollutants.

Together, the methods are used to estimate the impacts and associated economic damage caused by a number of pollutants emitted from industrial facilities, including:

  • the regional and local air pollutants: ammonia (NH3), nitrogen oxides (NOx), non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOCs), particulate matter (PM10) and sulphur oxides (SOx);
  • heavy metals: arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead, mercury and nickel;
  • organic micro-pollutants: benzene, dioxins and furans, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs);
  • carbon dioxide (C02).

Each of these pollutants can harm human health, the environment or both. Certain of them also contribute to forming ozone and particulate matter in the atmosphere (Box ES.l).

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.

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