Particulate pollution in central Europe continues to reduce average life expectancy by almost half a year. Although air pollution in Germany has been reduced significantly since 1990, further efforts are necessary, especially as concerns particulates and nitrous oxides. These pollutants are emitted by motor vehicles and are also the product of combustion processes in industry and households for the generation of energy and heat. The rising numbers of freestanding stoves has been proven to add to particulate pollution in the winter months. Studies indicate a spike of up to five incidences of exceedence of the daily mean values. The EU target value for benzo[a]pyrene, which is 1 nanogram per cubic metre (ng/m3), was also exceeded repeatedly. This polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) is a product of wood burning. The Länder track air quality nationwide at 643 monitoring stations.
The allowable annual mean for nitrogen dioxide (NO2) of 40 micrograms per cubic metre air (µg/m3) was exceeded at 52 per cent of urban stations located near traffic. In contrast, the PM10 annual mean values for particulates, which is also 40 µg/m3, remained constant throughout Germany in 2012. Air pollution by particulates last year was one of the lowest since monitoring began. Exceedences of daily mean values occurred mainly at monitoring stations located near traffic. Even when weather conditions were favourable, the values measured in 2012 at nearly 10 per cent of stations close to traffic were over the daily limit value for particulates. The parameter is considered exceeded if levels above 50 µg/m3 are measured on more than 35 days in a year.
"The development away from district heating towards more decentralised small heating systems in private homes and trade must not result in higher particulate pollution than that caused by modern, large-scale power plants. Germany has taken important steps to ensure this by introducing more stringent regulations for small firing installations", said Flasbarth. The Federal Environment Agency brochure on heating with wood (Heizen mit Holz) explains how emissions from wood-fired small heating systems can be reduced.
There is further need for action in areas where the air breathed by people is polluted by particulates and nitrogen dioxide; that is, in urban areas and conurbations. Traffic emissions in these areas can be reduced by Low Emission Zones. If the zones are operated with few exceptions and consistently at Level 3, which only allows entry with a green badge, they have a proven positive effect on air quality. Since over 80 per cent of cars and 50-60 per cent of commercial vehicles now get a green badge, low emission zones that still tolerate the yellow badge are showing no significant improvement.
Making further improvements to the air quality in conurbations will require reducing the large-scale pollution by the agricultural sector. UBA is supporting measures to revise the licensing procedures in intensive livestock breeding and to enforce good agricultural practice, which includes the rapid treatment of livestock manure.
UBA will follow up with an assessment of air quality in Germany as soon as validated and complete data from the Federal and Länder air measurements networks have been received.