Britain has 10 of Europe’s top 50 “super-polluting” power stations and factories, helping to cost it more in health and environmental impacts than any other countries, except for Germany and Poland.
New air pollution figures from the European environment agency EEA suggest that a handful of power stations and industrial plants together cost the National Health Service and the wider UK economy over £10bn a year.
Of over 14,000 major industrial plants identified in Europe’s 27 countries, Drax power station in Selby and the Longannet plant at Kincardine in Scotland were ranked respectively 5th and 10th between 2008-2012.
Drax’s air pollution is calculated to have cost the economy £2.7-£6.34bn and Longannet £1.8-4.56bn. The Corus steel works in Redcar ranked 27th in Europe with Alcan Aluminium in Co Durham 34th.
The 10 biggest British plants together were calculated to have at cost at least £12.6bn in air pollution damages between 2008-2012.
Eight of the 30 biggest sources of air pollution were in Germany, six in Poland, four in Romania and three each in Bulgaria and the Britain. Half of all the health and environmental costs were said to be caused by just 1% of the industrial plants, said the report.
The authors calculated the economic damage done not just by major air pollutants emitted from coal and gas power stations but also those from burning diesel and petrol in vehicles. It included the estimated cost to the health service of the premature deaths and respiratory problems caused by traffic and industry, as well as the damage done to buildings, and the money lost from crop damage and from soil and water pollution.
CO2, a major gas responsible for climate change, was costed according to its carbon price. For the air pollutants, the majority of costs were said to be due to the health impacts of people breathing in minute particles of unburned carbon.
According to the authors, “air pollution cost [European] society at least €59 billion, (£46bn) and possibly as much as €189 billion (£149bn) in 2012. The upper estimate is roughly the same as the GDP of Finland or half the GDP of Poland. In Britain, the cost is estimated to be between £31-99bn in the five years from 2008.”
“While we all benefit from industry and power generation, this analysis shows that the technologies used by these plants impose hidden costs on our health and the environment. Industry is also only part of the picture – it is important to recognise that other sectors, primarily transport and agriculture, also contribute to poor air quality,” said Hans Bruyninckx, EEA director.
The report recorded a small decrease in the economic damage done over the five years monitored in the report. This, said the authors, reflected lower emissions from European industry, attributed to both tighter air pollution laws, greater efficiency in factories and machines and the Europe-wide economic recession.
But the EEA warned that the total cost of damage to health and the environment from pollution by all sectors of the economy, including from ‘diffuse’ sources such as road transport and households, could be significantly higher.
In 2010, the European commission estimated that the external costs associated with only the main air pollutants ranged from £260- 740bn.
An EEA spokesman added that because air pollution crossed borders, all figures were calculated from sources of pollution. The wide range of damages, he said, reflected different countries’ ways of putting a value on the health impacts of air pollution as well as the different methods used to estimate CO2 related damage.