Reducing the €45 Billion Health Cost of Air Pollution From Lorries

Road charges for heavy goods vehicles (HGVs or lorries) should reflect the varied health effects of traffic pollution in different European countries. This means charges should be much higher in some countries compared to others, according to analysis from the European Environment Agency (EEA).

Overall, air pollution is estimated to cause 3 million sick days and 350 000 premature deaths inEurope. Such health effects also have a heavy economic cost – the report’s authors estimate that the air pollution from HGVs alone costs EEA member countries €43-46 billion per year, making up almost half of the approximately € 100 billion cost of air pollution from all transport modes.

The 2011 Eurovignette Directive prescribes 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, says: “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.”

While air pollution in Europe has fallen significantly in recent years, it is still a problem in some parts of Europe, where HGVs can be a major factor, the 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.

Heavy goods vehicles are responsible for 40-50% of nitrogen oxide (NOx) pollution from road transport in countries covered by the 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 cost of air pollution from HGVs is up to 16 times higher in some European countries compared to others, the report notes. 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% 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 says.

The scheme would also create a level playing field, by internalising the costs that road freight currently imposes on the rest of society. The positive effects of such a scheme have been noted in Switzerland after the country adopted similar legislation.

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