Air quality 2015: Nitrogen dioxide pollution still too heavy

Higher ozone levels for the first time in years; much lower particulate levels than 2014

Luftqualität 2015: Auswertung der Feinstaubwerte; Stand Januar 2016

An evaluation of interim measurement data from the federal states and the German Environment Agency (UBA) for 2015 indicates that Germany's cities continue to battle with high levels of nitrogen dioxide air pollution. As in previous years, the limit value of 40 µg/m³ (micrograms/cubic metre) as annual average was exceeded at about 60 percent of the measuring stations located near roads.

"Local authorities must take measures to reduce urban nitrogen dioxide pollution as quickly as possible", said UBA's President Maria Krautzberger. "Diesel motor vehicles must be gradually phased out of inner cities and low-emission zones must be expanded and tightened up. We also need much more electric mobility, beyond the realm of the car." Nitrogen dioxide, in combination with particulate matter in particular, can harm the respiratory tract and damage the cardiovascular system, too.

Ozone: the downside of the unusually hot and dry summer in terms of air quality resulted from extreme heat periods which produced high concentrations of ozone for the first time in years. Measured levels were above the alarm threshold of 240 µg/m³. The highest measured value in 2015 (283 µg/m³) had not occurred since the hot summer of 2003. Compared to the prior ten years, 2015 had above-average levels of ozone but was still far from the high levels of pollution of the early 1990s. Yet the situation is in no way satisfactory: "We must continue to take measures to further reduce ozone pollution because Germany does not comply everywhere with the threshold value of 100 µg/m³ (more than eight hours on average) recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO)", said Ms Krautzberger. High concentrations of ozone can cause inflammations of the respiratory tract in humans, coughing, impaired lung function, and considerable breathing difficulties.

Particulate matter: from a long term perspective 2015 was a year with some of the lowest levels of pollution. The EU daily limit value (PM10 daily limit values may not exceed 50 μg/m³ more than 35 times per year) was exceeded at only two measuring stations close to traffic in Stuttgart and Berlin. As in the previous year, there were no episodes of extreme weather conditions which favour particulate build-up such as there were in spring and autumn 2011. Nevertheless, particulate emissions should be further reduced because the WHO also recommends a much lower threshold value for particulates, which requires that the daily mean value for PM10 may not exceed 50 µg/m³ on more than three days per year. Only 23 percent of the measuring stations complied with this recommendation. It has been proven that inhaled particulate matter causes damage to health in humans, with effects ranging from irritation of the mucous membranes and local inflammation in the trachea and bronchi to increased plaque formation in the blood vessels, increased risk of thrombosis, or changes in the regulatory function of the vegetative nervous system.

 

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