Heavy goods vehicles cost Europe billions in health damage

Thu Feb 28, 2013 10:20am EST

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* Switzerland, Luxembourg among those facing highest costs

* Costs also high in Italy, Germany

* Member states working on implementing road charging law

By Barbara Lewis

BRUSSELS, Feb 28 (Reuters) - Air pollution from heavy goods vehicles costs Europe 43 billion to 46 billion euros ($56-$60 billion) per year - a cost that could be passed on to the hauliers, a report from the European Environment Agency said on Thursday.

The bill is especially high in Switzerland and Luxembourg, which are major transit routes and are landlocked. Heavily indebted Italy is also suffering because of the health costs linked to vehicle exhaust fumes.

The European Environment Agency (EEA) provides official data to the Commission on the European Union and its neighbouring countries.

Member states have until October this year to report on their plans for implementing EU law on charging vehicles fairly for using roads.

The law gives them the option to incorporate the health costs of air pollution into charges for road use, which could help to encourage a shift to cleaner vehicles, the EEA 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," Jacqueline McGlade, executive director of the European Environment Agency, said.

"By incorporating these costs into the price of goods, we can encourage healthier transport methods and cleaner technologies."

Air pollution is linked with cardiovascular disease and cancer and other lung diseases. Overall, it is estimated to cause 3 million sick days and 350,000 premature deaths in Europe each year.

The financial cost of air pollution from all road transport is estimated at 100 billion euros annually, of which nearly half is from heavy goods vehicles (HGVs).

Fumes from diesel, which is used by most HGVs, cause more air pollution per kilometre than from other fuels such as petrol, the EEA said, and in landlocked countries it is more difficult for the fumes to disperse.

The average cost of pollution from a 12-14 tonne lorry is the highest in Switzerland at almost 12 euro cents per kilometre, the EEA report said.

Costs are also high in Austria, Luxembourg, Germany, Italy and Romania at around 8 cents per kilometre.

In Cyprus, Finland and Malta, by contrast, the cost is around half a euro cent per kilometre.

The European Commission is reviewing air quality laws and has also said it particularly needs to address the issue of diesel, which the World Health Organization last year linked to cancer.

($1 = 0.7628 euros) (editing by Jane Baird)

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