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€46 billion a year: the air pollution cost of road haulage

Air pollution has hidden economic and health costs; causing some 3 million sick days and 350,000 premature deaths in Europe each year, according to the European Environment Agency (EEA).

A new technical study from the European NGO entitled ‘Road user charges for heavy goods vehicles (HGV)’, reveals that air pollution from HGVs alone has a huge economic impact, costing European countries some €43-46 billion per year.

Volvo FH Truck

The Agency wants to see these costs reflected in road charges for HGVs, to encourage healthier transport methods and cleaner technologies, as is already recommended EU.

The 2011 Eurovignette Directive lays out how EU Member States could incorporate the health costs from air pollution into any charging structure for large roads and motorways. The revenue from such schemes should be invested in sustainable transport, the Directive states. However, adoption of road user charges depends on a decision by individual countries.

Jacqueline McGlade, EEA Executive Director, said: “European economies rely on transporting goods long distances. But there is also a hidden cost, paid in years of reduced health and lost life. This cost is especially high for those living close to Europe’s major transport routes. By incorporating these costs into the price of goods, we can encourage healthier transport methods and cleaner technologies.”

EEA recommends different levels of charging per country for HGVs to reflect the varied health effects of traffic pollution in different European countries. In some countries, the cost of air pollution from HGVs is up to 16 times higher than the least affected European countries

Cost of transporting goods across Europe

While air pollution in Europe has fallen significantly in recent years, it is still a problem across Europe, in some parts, road haulage is a major factor, EEA’s report notes. Diesel, used by most HGVs, causes more air pollution per kilometre than other fuels such as petrol. Exhaust emissions from diesel engines were recently labelled as carcinogenic by the International Agency for Research on Cancer.

Renault TruckHeavy goods vehicles are responsible for 40-50 per cent of nitrogen oxide (NOx) pollution from road transport in countries covered by EEA. Both NOx and fine particulate matter (PM2.5) are considered in the report, as they can cause respiratory diseases, cardiovascular illnesses and other health problems.

The average cost of pollution from a 12-14 tonne Euroclass III lorry is highest in Switzerland, at almost € 0.12 per kilometre. Costs are also high in Luxemburg, Germany, Romania, Italy and Austria, at around € 0.08/km. This is because the pollutants cause more harm where there are high population densities, or in landlocked regions and mountainous areas where pollution cannot disperse so easily.

At the other end of the scale, the same lorry driving in Cyprus, Malta and Finland causes damage of around half a euro cent per kilometre.

In some regions the cost is also much higher than others. Zurich in Switzerland, Bucarest in Romania, Milan in Italy, the Ruhr Valley in Germany and Barcelona in Spain had some of the highest health costs compared to other large urban zones.

The calculations show that newer lorries would have a reduced impact, and therefore a lower cost. Euroclass IV lorries, which are up to six years old, or Euroclass V, up to three years old, would cause 40-60 per cent less external costs on the same transport corridors. Charging haulage companies for the external costs of air pollution would incentivise newer and cleaner technologies, the report concludes.

EEA’s full report can be accessed here.

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Faye Sunderland

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