Five environmental NGOs are urging the European Union to take a tougher stance on air pollution from "old, inefficient, and substandard" coal power plants in the Western Balkans, saying they are impacting the health of people across the continent.
Air pollution from the plants is responsible for an estimated 3,900 premature deaths, 8,500 cases of bronchitis in children, and other chronic illnesses, the NGOs said in a report issued on February 19.
According to the Chronic Coal Pollution report by the Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL), Sandbag, Climate Action Network Europe, CEE Bankwatch Network, and Europe Beyond Coal, the health issues caused by these plants adds up to lost productivity and health costs of up to 11,535 million euros ($13 million).
In 2016 alone, 16 Communist-era plants in the Western Balkans "spewed out as much sulphur dioxide (SO2) pollution as the entire fleet" of the EU’s 250 coal-fired plants, the groups said in a press release.
One power plant in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Ugljevik, "emitted more SO2 than all German coal power plants put together," they added.
And levels for particulate matter and nitrogen oxides emitted by the plants are “equally alarming,” the groups said.
Lignite, the most polluting coal, is widely available in the Western Balkans, providing a cheap energy resource for the region.
Countries of the region are members of the Energy Community, which had a commitment to implement EU rules to curb pollution by 2018, but investments in new power plants or technology to cut emissions have largely been delayed, according to the report.
"Air pollution knows no borders and is still an invisible killer in Europe," said Vlatka Matkovic Puljic, a senior health and energy officer at HEAL, and lead author of the report.
"It is high time that EU policy-makers step up efforts to clean up the air and decarbonize the power sector," she added.