This Federal Environment Agency web page offers regularly updated information about air and other topics related to this most important elixir of life. Find out here how air quality has developed and which pollutants are harmful to health. We identify sources of pollution and point out measures to combat it.
145 µg/m³ - the concentration of hazardous particulate matter (PM2,5) measured on New Year's Day 2013 at the Landshuter Allee measuring station in Munich.
Particulate matter consists of a complex mixture of solid and liquid particles and is classified into different fractions according to size. PM2.5 stands for particulate matter with a maximum diametre of 2.5 micrometres (µm). Due to their small size these particles can penetrate into the small bronchi and bronchioles when inhaled. There are particularly high concentrations of particulate matter on New Year's Day, due to the fireworks on New Year's Eve. The 2013 national high of 145 µg/m³ was measured in Munich: To compare: the average daily mean value for December 2012 - January 2013 at that measuring station was a mere 19 µg/m³. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that its guideline value for a daily mean of 25 µg/m³ should not be exceeded if at possible.
Number of the week in review
Week 1 + 2: 2.5 µm is the maximum dimension of respirable particulate matter.
Week 3: 3 months is the statistically shortened lifespan for every person in Germany owing to diesel soot.
Week 4: An 643 monitoring stations are currently taking daily measurements of the air quality in Germany.
Week 5: 2285 µg/m3 was the PM10 concentration during the first hour of the new year, measured at the Berlin air monitoring station in Steglitz-Schildhornstraße.
Week 6: 870 µg/m3 was the daily mean level of sulphur dioxide concentration on 6 February 1990 in the southern area of Leipzig.
Week 7: About 900 µg/m3: the level of PM2.5 concentration on the night of 12 January in Beijing.
Week 8: In 1649 Otto von Guericke invented the air pump.
Week 9: Breathing air has 21 per cent oxygen by volume.
Week 10: The particle size of respirable crystalline silicon (quartz particles) thought to be carcinogenic is less than 4 µm (PM4).
Week 11: 9,188 industrial plants are now authorised according to the IPPC Directive.
Week 12: 33 BAT Reference Documents - Best Available Techniques are available to the sectors of industry most important to the environment.
Week 13: There are 14,373 petrol stations in Germany (Date: 1/2012, EID).
Week 14: A megacity is a metropolis with a population of more than 10 million.
Week 15: Residents of the City of London pay a congestion charge of £ 20 per month.
Week 16: The World Health Organization (WHO) guideline for the annual mean value for PM2.5 is 10 µg/m3.
Week 17: About 600,000 motor vehicles in Tehran are more than 20 years old.
Week 18: About 70 per cent of China’s total energy consumption in 2009 was supplied by firing coal.
Week 19: An adult human breathes about 4,000,000 million litres of air per year.
Week 20: More than 80 per cent of the population in the EU is exposed to particulate pollution at levels above the air quality guidelines which the WHO established in 2005.
Week 21: Nearly 2 million new erythrocytes are produced every second.
Week 22: 4 oxygen molecules can bind to a single haemoglobin molecule.
Week 23: 78 per cent of all the natural and semi-natural ecosystems in Germany are exposed to atmospheric nitrogen inputs. This does harm to the environment in the long term.
Week 24: About 3.2 million tonnes of reactive nitrogen compounds enter Germany´s nitrogen cycle every year.
Week 25: Ground-level ozone causes damage to ecosystems. AOT 40 is the parameter used to assess its risks for plants.
Week 26: 51 parties: 48 European countries, the European Union, the USA and Canada collaborate in the Geneva Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution.
Week 27: It took 17 days for smoke from a forest fire in Russia to go once round the Earth.
Week 28: There were 12 million tonnes of NOx emissions in Europe in 2008. In contrast, NOx emissions in China rose by that very amount between 1990 and 2008.
Week 29: There are currently 23 POPs which are regulated by the Stockholm Convention on Persistant Organic Pollutants.
Week 30: 29 global stations are taking measurements in the Global Atmosphere Watch Programme (GAW).
Week 31: The mean ozone concentrations in Mace Head (Ireland) along the western coast of Europe are about 80 µg/m3.
Week 32: The symbolic threshold value of 400 ppm carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere as a daily average was exceeded for the first time at the Mauna Loa, Hawaii, measuring station on 9 May 2013.
Week 33: 44states (+ EU as Nr. 45) have signed the EMEP Protocol to the Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution.
Week 34: 10micrometres (micrometre =a millionth of a metre or thousandth of a millimetre) is the cap on the size of the particulate fraction in the air called particulate matter.
Week 35: The Federal Environment Agency air quality monitoring network consists of 7measuring stations.
Week 36: Hamburg has made it possible for virtually every inhabitant to have access to a form of public transport that is within 300 metres at most.
Week 37: 75 per cent of the world's population will soon live in cities.
Week 38: Copenhagen city has a free bike-sharing system.
Week 39: The ground-breaking "Tianjin Eco-city" is being built on wasteland. It used to be one-third desert, one-third salt flats and one-third sewage works.
Week 40: In addition to other agricultural crops and ornamental plants, 101 tomato varieties are grown in Andernach, the "edible city" in Rhineland-Palatinate.
Week 41: There are about 14 million small, solid fuel-fired heating systems in Germany.
Week 42: Small coal and wood firing installations produced 25,000 tonnesof particulate emissions (PM2,5) in 2011.
Week 43: New limits on the pollutant emissions from wood-fired boilers and stoves will become effective in 2015.
Week 44: 25 per cent is the maximum moisture content that firewood may have at the time it is burned.
Week 45: The Climate and Clean Air Coalition to Reduce Short-Lived Climate Pollutants (CCAC) has 72 members to date.
Week 46: The CCAC launched 10 global initiatives wich aim to reduce emissions of short-lived climate pollutants worldwide.
Week 47: The CCAC seeks to contain global warming to an increase of 0.5 Grad Celsius up to 2050 by enacting global initiatives and measures to reduce short-lived climate pollutants.
Week 48: Every year there are about 6 million premature deaths worldwide which are traceable to high levels of air pollution.
Week 49: Only 14 of the 48 Low Emission Zones in Germany still currently allow vehicles with a yellow sticker to drive in them (December 2013).
Week 50: The source of 94% of Germany's ammonia emissions in 2011 was agriculture.
Week 51: Tree Candles will be burning on our wreaths in the third week of Advent.
Week 52: The average particle count at a measuring station on city outskirts (urban background) is about 10,000 particles per cubic centimetre.
Monthly column - December
Commission on Air Pollution Prevention of VDI and DIN - Standards Committee KRdL
Platform for national, European and international standardisation in air pollution control
The high standard of environmental protection that exists in Germany and Europe today is based on legal standards and technical rules in which the VDI and DIN ascertain the state of scientific and technological progress. The Commission on Air Pollution Prevention of VDI and DIN (KRdL) has been active in preparing the technical guidelines for air pollution control since 1957.
The VDI Guidelines and DIN standards issued by KRdL act as an instrument of deregulation in that they take into consideration both national regulations (Technical Instructions on Air Quality Control in particular) and the European legal system (e.g. EU Air Quality Framework Directive). For example, the 39th BImSchV (Ordinance on Air Quality Standards and Emission Ceilings) refers to DIN EN 12341 for sampling and measurement of particulate matter. The standard describes a reference method to determine the PM10 fraction of suspended particulate matter.
The scope of the KRdL's work covers all relevant issues in air pollution control. Its focus areas cover e.g. techniques for measuring nitrogen oxides or heavy metals, integrated pollution-abatement systems for use in waste treatment, as well as meteorological measurement and modelling, odour testing of indoor air, and environmental health assessment of bioaerosols. The competences of the KRdL are organised into four technical divisions:
Environmental Protection Technologies
Environmental Measurement Techniques
Since 1990 the KRdL has served as the secretariat for ISO/TC 146 "Air quality", and of CEN/TC 264 "Air quality" since 1991. This makes the KRdL the sole responsible organ for national, European and international regulation in the area of air pollution control.
The KRdL has more than 170 working groups which unite some 1,200 volunteer experts from industry, science and administration. Most of the costs for this voluntary work are carried by the state and other interest groups who represent industry, science and administration who provide their time and know-how. Organisation and management are in the hands of the KRdL office in Düsseldorf. The office has 18 full-time staff who supervise KRdL's technical regulation work.
The KRdL documents the entire body of knowledge in air pollution control in more than 470 VDI guidelines and more than 140 DIN standards which are included in the six volumes of the VDI/DIN Air Pollution Prevention Manual. The Manual undergoes continuous updating and further development. Current air pollution issues are discussed in expert forums and at other events with the corresponding communities of experts.
Contact: Commission on Air Pollution Prevention of VDI and DIN - Standards Committee KRdL Dr. Rudolf Neuroth Phone: +49 (0) 211/62 14-5 44 E-mail: neuroth (at) vdi.de
Monthly column - November
Short-lived climate pollutants such as soot, methane, ozone or hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) add to the greenhouse effect and can have profound effects on the Earth’s climate system. What characterises these short-lived climate pollutants is that they – unlike CO2 for example – are relatively short-lived in the atmosphere. The residence time of soot ranges between several days and a week. Achieving a reduction of short-lived climate pollutants can therefore help in the short term to mitigate negative effects on the climate.
However, some of thes pollutants –soot and ozone – are also classified as air pollutants. Both substances have an adverse impact on human health: they can cause respiratory problems, cardiovascular disease or even lung cancer. Ozone and other pollutants can also damage ecosystems and lead to a loss of biodiversity. Mitigation of short-lived climate pollutants can help to reduce their impact on the climate and to protect man against their harmful health effects.
A group of states and international organisations founded the Climate and Clean Air Coalition to Reduce Short Lived Climate Pollutants (CCAC) in February 2012. Its objective is to achieve a reduction of these pollutants through global initiatives. The aim of one of these initiatives is to reduce pollutant emissions from Methane from the gas production processes.
Monthly column - October
Summer is over, which marks the beginning of the heating season in Germany. Heating with wood – either for cozy fireplace heating or in convenient pellet boilers – is becoming more and more popular. It is better for the climate because wood is a renewable fuel and, when burned, only releases the amount of CO2 which the original tree had previously captured from the atmosphere. However, heating with wood can develop into an air quality problem: older installations in particular generate a lot of particulate emissions in addition to a number of other pollutants when the wood does not burn completely.
If you would like to heat with wood, it is important to keep the following in mind:
Opt for modern, low-emissions system design. Many low-emission models of pellet stove and boilers have been awarded the Blue Angel.
Use only natural, untreated wood that has been dried adequately.
Follow the guidelines in the user manual, e.g. as concerns proper amount of wood and correct adjustment of the combustion air supply.
Monthly column - September
Liveable Urban Centres: Opportunities and challenges for environmental protection and quality of life
Today about 50 per cent of the population in Germany lives in urban areas of more than 500 inhabitants per square kilometre – and the number is set to increase in the future. The high population density and the associated high pressure for use not only pose great challenges but are also opportunities for environmental protection. Densely populated areas are often affected by high levels of air pollution. Intelligent transport planning schemes which promote local public transport and cycling, for example, also are a means to improving air quality.
With its thematic focus on “Liveable Urban Centres”, the Federal Environment Agency strategy for 2015 intends to come up with sustainable solutions to ensuring a high quality of life for people in urban areas without putting a strain on health and the environment. In the same context the Federal Environment Agency is holding a photo contest called Stadt im Sucher (City in the viewfinder) through the end of September. Fabulous prizes can be won by entering photos that show the attractive aspects of life in the city.
For more information about the thematic focus area "Liveable Urban Centres" see the Federal Environment Agency’s annual publication What Matters 2013. Examples of cities that have been exemplary in environmental protection can be found on the web pages of the European Green Capital.
Monthly column - August
Air pollution of migrant origin
Air quality monitoring network at the Federal Environment Agency records air pollutants transported over long distances
Section 2 of the Act on the establishment of the Federal Environment Agency (dated 22 July 1974, last amended 1 May 1996) specifically mandates the Federal Environment Agency with the measurement of wide-area air pollution. The Federal Environment Agency (UBA) therefore operates an air quality monitoring network that consists of seven measuring stations that are located throughout Germany. The UBA air quality monitoring network in rural clean air areas mainly does measurements to which Germany is committed under international agreements and EU law. In addition, the UBA monitoring network does research and development to improve measuring technology and to better understand atmospheric chemistry processes. The legal basis for the UBA air quality monitoring network’s measurement obligations is founded on the Geneva Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution (EMEP and ICP-IM), the GAW Programme of the United Nations WMO, on Germany’s membership in the OSPAR und HELCOM marine environment protection commissions, and on the EU air quality directive.
Monthly column - July
Pollutant transport across the northern hemisphere – other continents also influence our pollution levels
Airborne transport of pollutants – a well-known problem, one which usually conjures of images of transport contained to Europe. But pollutants can also be transported from other continents to Europe. The July article explains how this works and directs its focus on ozone and its precursors and on persistent organic pollutants. You can also watch a film that follows the path of ozone transport across the northern hemisphere.
Monthly column - June
Plants and animals also need clean air
There is an intensive exchange between every individual and the atmosphere for we all breathe in and out about 12,000 litres of air every day. Clean air is therefore a most important foodstuff, and this is no different for animals and plants: a mature tree can exchange more than 30 million litres of air per day and thereby supply “fresh” air. Airborne pollutants that are transported to even the most remote ecosystems can also become a problem for nature:
Nitrogen compounds can cause overfertilisation of ecosystems. Together with sulphur compounds they are also responsible for acidification. Exposure to pollutants is one of the five main risks to biological diversity. Nitrogen inputs via the air pathway are above levels which are considered tolerable in the long term on three-quarters of ecosystem land surface in Germany.
Elevated concentrations of ozone in the air have a negative impact on nature, whether in natural ecosystems or on agricultural land. Annual harvest losses across Europe due to ozone account for economic damages of more than one billion euros in wheat farming alone (study).
Even bodies of water suffer from poor air quality. Mercury contamination of fish and overfertilisation of the Baltic Sea are two problems which are also caused by pollutant transport through the air.
Since air pollution does not stop at borders, clean air is an important goal of international pollution control policy, particularly within the Framework of the Geneva Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution. The Convention agreed to establish international monitoring programmes which record the effects of air pollution. In the past clean-air measures have been able to curb the negative effects of pollution, but there is still a lot to be done. One important field of action is the reduction of ammonia inputs from agriculture.
Air pollution can have a serious impact on health. The effects of local, regional and transboundary environmental problems can impair health. These effects may be acute and cause immediate problems, such as irritation of the respiratory tract. Longer term exposure, however, can lead to chronic illness of the lungs or circulatory system. Air pollution is also the cause of deaths associated with these illnesses.
At European level legislation is complemented by an air pollution control strategy whose goal is to achieve air quality that has no significant negative impact on health and the environment and causes no such risks. The air pollution control strategy defines objectives of air pollution reduction and recommends measures by which to achieve these aims by 2020. These measures include updating current legislation, more targeted focus of these regulations on hazardous air pollutants, and the greater involvement of industry and policy-makers who are in a position to influence air pollution. The EU air pollution control strategy also identifies health and environmental targets as well as emissions reduction targets for the most important air pollutants. The objective is to provide the people of the EU with effective protection from exposure to particulate matter and ground-level ozone.
Tobacco use leads to nearly 6 million deaths worldwide every year. More than 600,000 non-smokers die as a result of passive smoking. The annual death toll will reach 8 million by 2030 if we don't take action. More than 80 per cent of these deaths occur in low- and medium-income countries. World No Tobacco Day which is held every year on 31 May highlights the health risks associated with tobacco use and campaigns for effective measures to reduce its use. Tobacco use is the most easily avoided cause of death worldwide but it claims the life of one in every ten people.
The FIFA International Federation of Association Football has announced that the World Cup 2014 in Brazil will be a smoke- and tobacco-free environment. Spectators and players are to enjoy the tournament in 100% smoke-free stadiums. FIFA is thereby taking up the recommendations issued by the World Health Organization (WHO).
Monthly column - April
Particulate matter pollution in megacities
The Federal Environment Agency and the environmental agencies of the Länder are responsible for monitoring air quality in Germany. The quality of our breathing air is relatively high at present, but the road to improvement from the 1970s until today has been long. Some of the countries in the world must still travel that road. Rapid urbanisation – the growth of cities on one hand and the behaviour in cities of people from rural regions on the other - means an increase in the number of vehicles on roads, more burning of coal and greater economic need which is putting a strain on the world's population because of particulate matter pollution. Pollution is sometimes far greater than human health can tolerate.
Directive 2010/75/EU (Corrigenda of 17 December 2010) on industrial emissions (integrated pollution prevention and control) of 24 November 2010 provides the basis throughout the EU for the authorisation of installations with relevance to the environment. The directive follows up on the Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control directive (IPPC Directive) and six other sector directives on large combustion plants, waste incineration, solvents and titanium dioxide.
The new directive represents the further development of the principle of sustainable production. The objective is to achieve a high overall level of protection for the environment. This is achieved by adopting an integrative approach across all media. To reduce consumption of resources and energy and other environmental impact, pollutant emissions to the different media (e.g. air) and all production processes must be taken into account.
Germany has transposed the IPPC into national law in an omnibus act and two series of ordinances. These comprehensive changes and revisions to the legislation are currently in the law-making process which is due to conclude in March. Announcement in the Federal Law Gazette will be made in April, whereby the revisions enter into force.
Monthly column - February
Air quality in Germany: Compliance with caps still problematic in 2012
Air pollution caused by nitrogen dioxide and particulates continued to be too high in Germany in 2012. These are the results of an initial evaluation of interim measurement data from the Länder and UBA. Levels of nitrogen dioxide pollution also remained high. Mean PM10 particulate concentrations were at the same level as in 2008 and thus well below the levels measured in 2009-2011.
Monthly column - January
Air is thick on New Year’s Eve
Lead-pouring for fortune telling, champagne and fireworks at midnight – all part of a typical New Year’s Eve in Germany. An unfortunate part of that tradition is that the air is thick with smoke, eyes burn and throats are itchy. Setting off fireworks catapults many pollutants into the air. Pollution with harmful particulate matter is higher in some areas than at any other time of year. You can help to reduce levels of particulate matter by buying fewer fireworks this year – better yet, do without them altogether.
The impact of climate change will be felt more strongly in the future – and in Germany too. This is the conclusion reached in what is called the vulnerability analysis, a comprehensive study on Germany's vulnerability to climate change.