Air pollution from Europe's large industrial plants and coal-fired power stations, including Moneypoint on the Shannon Estuary, cost society at least €59 billion in 2012, according to the European Environment Agency.
In a detailed assessment, it says the true figure could be as high as €189 billion, equivalent to Finland’s entire GDP.
The report says half of these “damage costs” were caused by just 1 per cent of the installations surveyed.
Fifty per cent of the costs, including premature death, hospital bills, lost work days, damage to buildings and reduced agricultural yields, were caused by just 147 facilities, of which 30 (mainly coal-fired power plants) were the worst offenders.
Eight of the top 30 facilities are located in Germany, six in Poland, four in Romania, three each in Bulgaria and Britain, two in Greece and one each in the Czech Republic, Estonia, Italy and Slovakia.
Hans Bruyninckx, the agency's executive director, pointed out that industry is "only part of the picture [and] it is important to recognise that other sectors, primarily transport and agriculture, also contribute to poor air quality".
The European Environmental Bureau, a Brussels-based coalition, said the report came at a "critical moment" as the European Commission considers "withdrawing important air pollution standards on the dangerously false premise that this will drive growth".
Christian Schaible, the bureau’s industrial policy officer, said the Commission should not allow the most polluting emitters, which make up only 1 per cent of Europe’s 14,325 industrial installations, to be exempt from stricter EU emissions standards.
“Cleaning up coal fired combustion plants alone would yield environmental and health benefits of up to €55 billion a year,” he said. “These standards were deemed feasible almost a decade ago but operators are still shamefully dragging their feet.”
The full report can be read at eea.europa.eu.