Particulates and nitrogen dioxide still a health burden in 2013

Around 47,000 premature deaths every year due to poor air quality

386 measuring stations; particulate matter (PM 10) daily mean value: exceedance of EU limit value 3%, WHO guideline 98% and 2% no exceedances; particulate matter (PM 10) daily mean value: exceedance of WHO guideline 51%, 49% no exceedancesClick to enlarge
Exceedance of particulate matter limit PM10
Source: Umweltbundesamt

Nitrogen dioxide and particulates in particular still had an impact on air quality and on human health in Germany in 2013, say preliminary measurements from the Länder and the Federal Environment Agency (UBA). The high levels of nitrogen dioxide pollution measured in previous years remained unchanged. More than half of the stations in urban areas near traffic measured exceedances of the allowable annual mean of 40 micrograms (μg) nitrogen dioxide (NO2) per cubic metre (m3) air. Particulates also continued to exceed limit values. Compared to earlier years, 2013 was nevertheless a year which registered some of the lowest levels of pollution. This is no reason for an all clear signal, says Thomas Holzmann, Vice-President of UBA. "The particulate limit value was only exceeded at about three per cent of all measuring stations, which although it may seem low does not accurately reflect the health impact of particulates on public health, especially in consideration of the much stricter air quality guidelines recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO).”

The WHO air quality guideline value for particulates with an aerodynamic diameter smaller than 10 micrometres (PM10) has been established for a long time at 20 μg/m3 as an annual mean. This value was exceeded in 2013 at almost 51 per cent of all measuring stations in Germany. Thomas Holzmann remarked, “According to Federal Environment Agency calculations, excessive levels of particulate pollution cause about 47,000 premature deaths every year – as a result of acute respiratory diseases, cardiopulmonary disease or lung cancer. We are calling for a speedy tightening of current EU limit values which correspond to the scientific recommendations by the World Health Organization (WHO).”

Levels of another major air pollutant – ground-level ozone, which is present in summertime in particular – were exceeded at about eight per cent of measuring stations which measure the eight-hour daily average. The limit value is 120 μg/m3 and may not be exceeded on more than 25 days per calendar year, averaged over three years. Thomas Holzmann commented, “Ozone pollution was fortunately low although the hot summer periodically provided favourable conditions for ozone. But ambitious clean air policy in recent years has significantly brought down emissions of ozone precursors such as oxides of nitrogen and volatile organic compounds – and summertime ozone pollution, too.” There was therefore not a single ozone alert in 2013, but pollution levels remain too high to safeguard high standards of health protection.

There is still much to be done for clean air and in all sectors – from wood heating, the automotive industry to large power plants. The UBA therefore applauds the Clean Air for Europe programme adopted by the EU Commission at the end of the 2013 Year of Air. Says Thomas Holzmann, “In late 2013 the EU Commission submitted proposals for more stringent emissions reductions of the main air pollutants. Implementation of these reductions would be an important step towards improving air quality in Germany and Europe.“

Air quality 2013

  1. Exceedance of particulate matter limit PM10
  2. Premature deaths from selected diseases traceable to particulate exposure (2011)
  3. Proportion of particulate matter