Indicator: Health risks due to particulate matter

A graph shows the number of premature deaths due to particulate-matter related diseases. It differentiates between cardiopulmonary disease and lung cancer. The number of deaths fell between 2007 and 2015.Click to enlarge
Premature deaths from diseases caused by particulates
Source: German Environment Agency Figure as PDF

Table of Contents


At a glance

  • In 2015, about 41,500 premature deaths in Germany can be attributed to ambient particulate matter pollution.
  • The adverse health effects of particulate matter decreased in recent years however, the health threat associated with particulate matter pollution is still too high.
  • The Federal Government has set a target to further reduce particulate matter emissions.

Environmental importance

Particulate matter includes both solid and liquid fine particles. The indicator is based on the fine fraction PM10, i.e. small particles with a diameter of less than 10 micrometres (µm, PM10). Particulate matter also has natural sources. However, particularly in urban agglomerations, particulate matter is primarily produced by incineration plants and vehicles. Agriculture also contributes to ambient particulate matter pollution. Secondary particulates also formed by precursor substances such as nitrogen oxides, ammonia and sulphur.

Ambient particulate matter is harmful to human health. The health impacts of particulate matter range from irritation of the mucous membranes to respiratory infections, increased risk for thrombosis and changes in the regulatory function of the autonomic nervous system. Very fine particles with a diameter of less than 2.5 µm (PM2.5) represent a particular health risk because they penetrate deep into the bronchi and even into the bloodstream. Cardiopulmonary diseases in general, and particularly lung cancer, are well-known health outcomes associated with particulate matter pollution.


Assessing the development

According to calculations by the German Environment Agency in 2007 around 51,000 premature deaths resulting from cardiovascular diseases and lung cancer could be attributed to particulate matter pollution in rural and urban areas. In 2015, the amount of premature deaths decreased but was still at an amount of around 41,500. This represents about 5.5 years lost per 1,000 inhabitants each year. The downward trend is mostly a result of reductions in particulate matter pollution (cf. ‘Population exposure to particulate matter pollution’ indicator).

Air pollutant emissions are regulated by a number of international agreements, in particular the Gothenburg Protocol (UNECE n.d.) and the EU’s air pollution policy. Under these treaties, Germany is committed to reduce emissions of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) by 26 % of 2005 levels by 2020 and by 43 % until 2030 (cf. ‘Emission of air pollutants’ indicator). A number of precursor substances are also covered by the legislation. Achieving these targets presents a major challenge for the German environmental policy.



The estimated health risk is based on the average annual population-weighted particulate matter concentration (PM10, cf. ‘Population exposure to particulate matter pollution’ indicator). These data are used in calculations based on the Environmental Burden of Disease (EBD) method. Here, data on overall and disease specific mortality, life expectancy and population data (population composition by age and gender) from the Federal Health Monitoring System (GBE) are used as model input parameters. Methodological details can be found in Kallweit et al. 2013 (in German, abstract in English).

More detailed information: 'Gesundheitsrisiken der Bevölkerung durch Feinstaub' (in German only).