The effects of air pollution are costing each person in Europe the sum of €1,250 a year, according to a study carried out by consultancy CE Delft for a group of NGOs.
The study looked at the costs of air pollution in 432 European cities from 30 countries – the 27 member states of the European Union, the United Kingdom, Norway and Switzerland.
The costs were taken to be direct health care expenditure, and indirect costs, such as the economic cost of diseases like chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD) as well as the cost of premature death.
The total population of the 432 cities was 130 million people, and the total social costs of pollution €166 billion in 2018.
The cost is not spread evenly over all the cities concerned. London was the most expensive, with total costs for its 8.8 million residents of €11.38 billion, Bucharest came second with costs of €6.35 billion, and Berlin was third with costs of €5.24 billion.
For the year 2018, the average across all European cities was €1,250, or just over €100 a month, equivalent to 3.9% of earnings. Again, the burden is spread unevenly.
In Bucharest, total welfare loss amounted to over €3,000 per capita per year, while in Santa Cruz de Tenerife in Spain it was under €400. In many cities in Bulgaria, Romania and Poland the health-related social costs are between 8-10% of income earned.
In Brussels, the cost amounted to €1,395 in 2018, while pollution in Antwerp cost €1,493.
“Most of these costs relate to premature mortality: for the 432 cities investigated, the average contribution of mortality to total social costs is 76.1%,” the study says.
“Conversely, the average contribution of morbidity (diseases) is 23.9%.”
The World Health Organisation estimates the number of premature deaths attributable to air pollution in the EU27 plus the UK at more 400,000 for 2018. Other studies suggest that may be an underestimate.
Either way, air pollution globally is considered to be the fourth-highest cause of death, behind high blood pressure, diet and smoking.
Air pollution also kills half a million babies annually in the world in the first month of life, according to another study, most of them in the developing world.
Air pollution derives from a variety of sources: transport, household heating and a range of other activities including agriculture and industry. The relative share of each source did not form part of the study’s remit, although some supplementary information was available on transport.
That allowed the conclusion that a 1% increase in the average journey time to work increases the social costs of particulate emissions by 0.29%, and nitrogen dioxide (NO2) emissions by 0.54%. A 1% increase in the number of cars in a city increases overall social costs by almost 0.5%.
“This confirms that reduced commuting and car ownership has a positive impact on air quality, thus reducing the social costs of poor city air quality.”