Multi-billion pound cost to UK from industrial air pollution

EU agency report estimates UK’s damage costs from air pollution caused by industrial facilities at £32 billion from 2008-2012

Air pollution from industrial facilities cost the UK between nearly £32 billion (39,863 billion euros) and £74 billion (93,384 billion euros) in the four years from 2008-2012, according to the European Environment Agency (EEA).

Indeed, the EEA data suggests the UK is incurring the third highest costs in Europe in terms of air pollution from industrial facilities — only behind Poland and Germany.

Drax Power Station in Selby

Drax Power Station in Selby

And, while a large number of the top polluting power stations are in Germany, Poland and Romania, 10 of the top 50 most damaging industrial facilities in Europe in terms of air pollution are in the UK, the EEA data shows.

Drax Power Station in Selby — described by Drax as “the largest, cleanest and most efficient coal-fired station in the UK” — is listed as the facility causing the highest damage costs in the UK — and the fifth highest in Europe — to health and the environment from air pollution.

Meanwhile, Longannet Power Station in Kincardine, Scotland, is 10th in the overall EEA list for Europe. The other UK facilities in the EEA list of the top 50 most damaging industrial facilities are shown at the bottom of the page.

The findings come in an EEA report — ‘Costs of air pollution from European industrial facilities — an updated assessment’ — which evaluates a number of harmful impacts caused by air pollution including premature death, hospital costs, lost work days, health problems, damage to buildings and reduced agricultural yields.

According to the EEA, there are several methods used by policy makers to calculate associated damage costs, and the low-high range of cost values reflects both the different approaches used to value health impacts from air pollution and the range of values used to estimate CO2-related damage costs.

Main air pollutants focused on in the report are ammonia (NH3), nitrogen oxides (NO2), non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOCs), particulate matter (PM10) and sulphur oxides (SOx).

The report also looks at CO2 and heavy metals such as arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead, mercury and nickel, as well as organic compounds benzene, dioxins, furans and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).


In Europe as a whole over the period, the estimated cost from industrial air pollution and CO2 was at least £261 billion (329 billion euros) and possibly up as high as £835 billion (1,053 billion euros) — with the majority of the damage caused by power stations.

EEA graphic showing damage costs of air pollution caused by industrial facilities in Europe (click to enlarge)

EEA graphic showing damage costs of air pollution caused by industrial facilities in Europe (click to enlarge)

The data also shows that 1% of Europe’s industrial facilities — 147 facilities — caused 50% of the damage to health and the environment between 2008 and 2012.

Overall, air pollution in Europe from industrial facilities cost each European citizen at least £91 (115 euros) in 2012, but this number could be as high as £292 (368 euros).

However, damage costs have declined over the five years monitored in the report, which the EEA said reflected lower emissions reported by industrial facilities — perhaps due to impacts pf legislation, improving plant efficiencies and the effects of the recent economic recession in Europe.

In addition, the report only assesses the damage costs to health and the environment and does not address potential economic and social benefits generated by the industrial sector.

Hans Bruyninckx, EEA executive director, said: “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.”

The report updates the EEA’s first assessment of the costs of air pollution caused by industrial facilities in Europe, which was published in 2011.

UK industrial facilities causing the highest damage costs to health and the environment (brackets show overall placing in European list):

  • Drax Power Limited, Selby (5)
  • Longannet Power Station, Kincardine (6)
  • Corus UK Limited, Teesside Integrated Iron and Steelworks, Redcar (7)
  • Alcan Aluminium UK Ltd, Alcan Lynemouth Smelter, Ashington (8)
  • RWE npower plc, Didcot A Power Station (9)
  • E.On UK Plc, Kingsnorth Power Station, Rochester (10)
  • E.On UK plc, Ratcliffe-on-Soar Power Station, Nottingham (11)
  • Keadby Gernerations Ltd, Ferrybridge ‘C’ Power Station, Knottingley (12)
  • EDF Energy, (Cottam Power) Ltd, Cottam Power Station, Retford (13)
  • Eggborough Power Ltd, Eggborough Power Station, Goole (14)
  • Corus UK Limited, Port Talbot Steel Works (69)
  • Scunthorpe Intergrated Iron and Steel Works, Scunthorpe (72)


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Graham Cliff.
Graham Cliff.
9 years ago

I researched air pollution in Manchester, England, over 30 years ago in the electron microscope. The unregulated siliceous dusts caused me great concern. It still does today – but it is tolerated without legal scientific justification – WHY?

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