POLLUTION from the Longannet power station in Fife is killing 690 people every year in Europe, making it one of the continent’s dirtiest and most dangerous industrial plants.
A expert survey also reveals that emissions from coal-fired stations in the rest of the UK are causing a further 7000 deaths a year. Six of the 15 worst polluting plants in the European Union are in the UK, suggesting that the country is still “the dirty man of Europe”.
The revelations have prompted outrage and condemnation from environmentalists, who are demanding that the plants either clean up or shut down. But power companies say the survey is “scaremongering” and point out that they are investing hundreds of millions of pounds to cut pollution.
Clouds of sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides are spewed into the air by the burning of coal and react to form tiny, highly toxic particles which spread far and wide. These are known to exacerbate a wide range of health problems including lung and heart disease.
Using a technique to assess impacts on health developed for the European Union, a leading British air pollution expert, Dr Mike Holland, surveyed and ranked the most polluting plants in the 25 EU countries plus Norway and Switzerland.
Longannet, run by Scottish Power, on the Firth of Forth, came out the worst in the UK and seventh worst in Europe. Only power stations in Poland and Spain belch out more harmful pollution.
Eighth and ninth in the polluters’ league are two coal stations in Nottinghamshire run by the French power company EDF Energy. Also in the top 15 are two Yorkshire plants, Eggborough, run by British Energy, and Ferrybridge, run by Scottish and Southern Energy.
Altogether 18 of the EU’s 50 most polluting plants are in the UK, far more than its nearest rivals Poland (seven), the Czech Republic (six) and Spain (five). The total number of premature deaths caused annually across Europe by the pollution is put at 76,000.
Holland, a consultant who has advised European governments on air pollution, also estimates the economic costs of the illnesses caused by the pollution. Longannet costs €540 million (£368m) a year, he says, out of a total annual health bill across Europe of at least £40 billion.
He believes that pollution puts a stress on health that triggers an early decline into infirmity for some people. “Emissions from plants like Longannet have a major impact on health in Europe,” he told the Sunday Herald.
Holland conducted the survey for the Swedish NGO Secretariat on Acid Rain, an environmental umbrella group based on Göteborg. According to the group’s Christer Ågren, pollution control in the UK is “way behind” other European countries such as Germany.
“It is incredible that the UK still allows most of its coal-fired plants to operate without modern flue gas cleaning technology,” he said. “The UK has also persistently hindered efforts for stricter EU-wide emission standards.”
Friends of the Earth Scotland des cribed Longannet’s impact on health as staggering. “Facilities like this should clean up their act or be shut down,” said the group’s head of research, Stuart Hay.
“It is clear that when it comes to pollution from power stations, Scotland and the rest of Britain have yet to lose their title of the dirty man of Europe.”
Scottish Power pointed out, however, that Longannet met the EU’s stringent air quality standards while supplying a quarter of Scotland’s electricity. The company recently announced a £170m investment in flue cleaning technology which should cut emissions of sulphur dioxide by 94%.
“This report is simplistic, potentially misleading and scaremongering, as it is impossible to individualise impacts from long-range pollutants in a modern industrialised society,” said a Scottish Power spokesman.
According to EDF Energy, the £300m it recently invested in flue cleaning technology at Cottam and West Burton power stations would create some of the cleanest coal-fired plants in the UK.
A company spokesman said that Holland’s survey was based on emissions data from before EDF took over the two stations a few years ago.
“EDF Energy takes its environmental responsibilities extremely seriously,” he added.
Holland welcomed the commitment to clean-up technology, but pointed out that the stations would still continue to emit nitrogen oxides. Neither British Energy or Scottish and Southern Energy responded to invitations to comment last week.
EUROPE'S DIRTY 15
power station / economic damage (million euros a year) / number of deaths a year
1. Puentes, Spain / 1,400 / 1,800
2. Belchatow, Poland / 1,300 / 1,600
3. Teruel, Spain / 700 / 890
4. Turow, Poland / 690 / 890
5. Adamow, Poland / 600 / 760
6. Patnow, Poland / 540 / 690
7. Longannet, Scotland / 540 / 690
8. Cottam, England / 530 / 680
9. West Burton, England / 510 / 660
10. Porto Tolle, Italy / 500 / 630
11. Eggborough, England / 450 / 570
12. Oroszinany, Hungary / 440 / 560
13. Drax, England / 420 / 540
14. Prunerov, Czech Republic / 410 / 520
15. Ferrybridge, England / 380 / 480
Source: 'Health Impacts of Emissions from Large Point Sources', Ecometrics Research and Consulting
NEED TO KNOW MORE?