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ClientEarth Communications

7th July 2016

Fossil fuels

23,000 early deaths in EU from coal-plant pollution

Almost 23,000 early deaths happen in the EU each year as a result of air pollution from burning coal for electricity, says a groundbreaking new report.

Europe’s Dark Cloud, published by a coalition of expert environmental, health and policy organisations, lays out the true damage of the EU’s coal-fired power plants to human health – and highlights how the health impacts cross borders.

In 2013 alone, according to the report, pollution from these plants caused almost 23,000 premature deaths, as well as triggering many thousands of new cases of pollution-related diseases, including chronic bronchitis.

This comes at a public health cost of up to €62.3 billion each year.

Pollution knows no borders

Significantly, the majority of the deaths counted by the report occurred outside of the country where the plants responsible for the harm are operating.

The data suggests that Poland’s coal-fired plants alone were responsible for 5,800 premature deaths – the most of any EU country – yet 1,100 of these deaths occurred in Poland itself.

The report also explains that over half of Europe’s premature deaths from coal can be attributed to 30 plants – what it calls the Toxic 30’.

This parallels statistics about the top 30 most climate-damaging coal power plants, which contribute almost half of all CO2 emissions from the entire EU coal fleet – the ‘Dirty 30’.

ClientEarth EU Energy and Coal lawyer Susan Shaw said: “The number of premature deaths highlighted in this report, for which the EU’s coal-fired power plants are responsible, is shocking.

“This kind of pollution clearly doesn’t respect national borders. We hope this new data will draw attention to the vast economic and social costs  which some member states are incurring as a result of the choices and failings of others.

“The fact that most of these deaths occurred outside of the country where the plants responsible were located underlines the need for collaborative action. As the months tick by post-Paris, European governments, industry and civil society must, as an urgent priority, work together to achieve a managed shutdown of Europe’s dirty coal power plants – starting with those that are the most toxic and dirty.

“The report’s findings should serve as a wake-up call to regulators of the consequences of failing to enforce compliance with Best Available Techniques. They demonstrate why regulatory authorities at every level must consider these impacts when granting and updating permits for coal-fired plants, as the law demands.

“This includes consideration of their significant trans-boundary impacts, which, as this report amply demonstrates, come at a hefty social cost.”