Air pollution costing Europe billions

Air pollution from Europe's largest industrial facilities cost society at least 59 billion euro ($73.2 billion) -- and possibly as much as 189 billion in 2012 -- according to a report by the European Environment Agency (EEA).

Half of these damage costs were caused by just 1 percent of the industrial plants, the report published on Tuesday found.

The upper estimate of $189 billion is approximately equivalent to the gross domestic product (GDP) of Finland or half the GDP of Poland.

Source: European Environment Agency

Between 2008 and 2012, the estimated total damage cost of the 14,325 facilities the EEA assessed was at least 329 billion euros and possibly up to 1,053 billion euros, the report added.

The findings come from the EEA's "Costs of air pollution from European industrial facilities – an updated assessment" report, which evaluates a number of harmful impacts caused by air pollution including premature death, hospital costs, lost work days, health problems, damage to buildings and reduced agricultural yields.

The EEA said it used a range of cost estimates as there are several existing methods currently used by policy makers to calculate associated damage costs.

Source: European Environment Agency

The report also names the most damaging facilities in Europe and the costs in each country. Of the 30 individual facilities identified as causing the highest damage, 26 are power-generating facilities, mainly fueled by coal and lignite and located predominantly in Germany and Eastern Europe.

Among those companies named in the report for having the highest damage costs were ThyssenKrupp's facilities and several of RWE's power plants in Germany.

Breaking down the figures, eight of the top 30 facilities causing the highest damage are located in Germany; six are in Poland; four are in Romania; three are in Bulgaria and the United Kingdom, two are located in Greece; and the Czech Republic, Estonia, Italy and Slovakia all have one each.

"However, this ranking does not take efficiency into account – in some cases, larger plants may be more efficient than several smaller ones," the EEA noted.

Source: European Environment Agency

The report did not assess whether a facility's emissions are consistent with its legal requirements to operate and only focused on the damage costs to health and the environment caused by industrial facilities. The significant economic and social benefits generated by the industrial sector (such as products, employment and tax revenues) were not addressed.

While we all benefit from industry and power generation, the analysis showed that the technologies used by these plants impose hidden costs on our health and the environment, the agency's Executive Director Hans Bruyninckx said.

"Industry is also only part of the picture – it is important to recognize that other sectors, primarily transport and agriculture, also contribute to poor air quality."

- By CNBC's Holly Ellyatt, follow her on Twitter @HollyEllyatt.