|2||Wangen im Allgau, Baden-Wuerttemberg|
|4||Meppen, Lower Saxony|
|7||Northeim, Lower Saxony|
|1||Neu Isenburg, Hessen|
|7||Neuhaus am Rennweg, Thuringia|
|10||Bad Hindelang, Bavaria|
Theair in Germany can generally be described as good. However, according to the2019 World Air Quality Report, Germany is only in 25th place in terms of cleanair quality and for the most part does not meet the World Health Organization(WHO) recommended guideline value of less than 10 µg/m3 forparticulate matter. Neighbouring countries, such as Switzerland, theNetherlands or Denmark, have comparatively better air quality than Germany.Even in a more global comparison, countries such as Spain or the USA have betterair quality than Germany, on average. Nevertheless, Germany is spared from extremeair pollution and, apart from Unna in North Rhine-Westphalia, all communitiesin Germany managed to meet the WHO guideline value for PM2.5 concentration inat least one month. In recent years, no annual Air Quality Index (AQI) has beenrecorded that is "Harmful for sensitive groups" or worse.
Thereal-time pollution map for Germany can be viewed at the top of this page.
Accordingto the IQAir 2019 city ranking, Giessen in the state of Hessen is the city withthe highest average air pollution in Germany. In 2019, the air quality index(AQI) in Giessen was classified as "moderate" due to a PM2.5 readingof 14.9 µg/m3. The second most polluted city in Germany wasRegensburg in Bavaria with a PM2.5 concentration of 14.5 µg/m3,closely followed by Northeim in Lower Saxony with 14.2 µg/m3 in2019, thus exceeding the PM2.5 guideline value of 10 µg/m3recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) by over 40%. Giessen andRegensburg were only able to meet the WHO’s guideline value for PM2.5 in 2019in the month of September.
Thebest air quality in Germany in 2019 was achieved in the small local communityof Merzalben in Rhineland-Palatinate. This village recorded an average PM2.5concentration of 5.4 µg/m3 in 2019. In 2017 and 2018, Merzalben hadslightly worse air quality than the following year and was beaten byRottach-Egern in Upper Bavaria as the cleanest village in Germany. As the IQAir2019 city ranking shows, Merzalben managed to meet the WHO’s guideline valuethroughout 2019. This was due to the fact that the town only had a maximumvalue of 7.4 µg/m3 PM2.5 in January 2019. Münstertal in the BlackForest in the federal state of Baden-Württemberg also managed to stay below theWHO guideline value of 10 µg/m3 in 2019, and thus came in secondplace among the municipalities with the best air quality in Germany.
Themain causes of air pollution in Germany are road traffic, emissions from powerstations, industrial processes (including solvent emissions), heating with fossilfuels, agriculture and waste treatment. The main sources of air pollution aremainly anthropogenic. Natural sources of air pollution in Germany are very raredue to the lack of forest fires and sandstorms, which occur frequently in otherparts of the world. Industry, including the mining, chemical and metalindustries, is a relevant sector in Germany and thus also responsible for asignificant proportion of emissions. The main pollutants with the largestamounts emitted by industry are volatile organic compounds (VOC)s and carbonmonoxide (CO), followed by particulate matter (PM2.5 and PM10), sulphur dioxide(SO2) and nitrogen oxide (NOx). Emissions from agriculture stem,inter alia, from manure management of agricultural soils. The pollutantsproduced are ammonia (NH3), NOx, VOC, PMx and hexachlorobenzene(HCB). Due to the high negative impact of farms, many different directives havebeen adopted to protect the environment and improve air quality. A highproportion of air pollution in Germany comes from road traffic. A largeproportion of emissions of NOx, CO, and PMx originate primarily from thissector. Compared to other sources of pollution, the processing of wasteaccounts for a smaller proportion of total air pollution in Germany.
Airquality in Germany has improved over the years. The relative share of NOx hasdecreased by 10% between 1995 and 2007, but road traffic is still by far thelargest source of emissions. However, the relative contribution by road trafficto air pollution has reduced significantly over the last two decades. Since theturn of the century, attention in Germany has focused on PM10, which isproduced as a by-product of road traffic and industry. Before that, the shareof traffic was 27%, while the relative share of industry was 23%. In 2007 it haddropped to 19% for road traffic and 22% for industry.
Althoughthe air quality values in Germany according to the Air Quality Index (AQI) areon average "Moderate" or "Good", the AQI value"Moderate" means that health problems can occur in sensitive groups.Germany as a whole, especially in February, is also far above the guidelinevalue recommended by the WHO. This is due to increased heating with fossilfuels and frequent inversion weather conditions.
In2015, 43.000 people died in Germany as a result of increased air pollution fromozone (O3) and particulate matter. More than 30% of these can beattributed to pollutants from traffic, mainly due to the use of diesel as afuel. These figures put Germany in fourth place in Europe in terms of thenumber of deaths due to air pollution. A major challenge for Germany lies incomplying with the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) guideline values forparticulate matter PM2.5, where the WHO assumes significant health risks forthe population at an average annual exposure of over 10 µg/m3).
Particulatematter in the respiratory system can lead to pulmonary and cardiovasculardiseases and thus cause premature death. Particulate matter increases thelikelihood of lung cancer and cardiovascular problems, although cardiovascularproblems can also lead to an increased risk of diabetes. Hospital admissionsrelated to the respiratory system are also more common when ozone (O3)exposure is higher. Particularly affected are asthmatics, who are moresusceptible to illness when nitrogen oxide (NO) levels are higher. In additionto asthmatics there are also elderly and sick people and children at risk,because they are more susceptible, or their immune systems are still underdeveloped.
Inaddition to the known health consequences, air pollution can also lead to skinproblems, especially on the face. Ozone, for example, can trigger oxidativestress, which in turn damages the skin's barrier function and can causeinflammation. Fine dust and nitrogen oxides can also attack the skin's naturalprotective function and cause oxidative stress. This accelerates the externalageing process of the skin. A strong correlation with extrinsic skin ageing hasbeen proven, especially for particulate matter from traffic. This manifestsitself in the increased occurrence of pigment spots and wrinkles on the face.In general, eczema occurs more frequently in regions with higher levels of airpollution.
Airpollution also affects psychological health, as a study in Germany on airpollution of particulate matter and chronic stress has shown. It was found thatlarger particulate matter PM10 does not lead to chronic stress, but an increasein the finer PM2.5 particulate matter fraction can be associated with anincrease in chronic stress. Vice versa, chronic stress in Germany leads to ahigher susceptibility to diseases caused by pollutants.
Notonly can human health be affected by air pollution, but forest soils can suffertoo. Acidifying pollutants such as sulphur and nitrogen have been affecting thepH value of German forest soils for over half a century. An acidified forestsoil contains elevated levels of aluminium and heavy metals which inhibit theabsorption of nutrients by the tree roots and thus cause a deficiency orimbalance in the tree's nutrients. Such a nutrient deficiency has a negativeeffect on the biodiversity of the forest, which then causes forest damage.
Ina temporal comparison of a study, a delay or even reversion of acidificationcould be observed. This improvement in soil quality in German forests isclearly related to the improvement of environmental and forest managementguidelines, as well as to a clean air policy. Soils fertilized with lime showeda significant improvement.
Ageographical comparison within Germany shows that the northwest and southeastof Germany are affected by low pH values and that acidification of forest soilsis therefore measurable. However, central Germany is also partially affectedand, like the other areas, has a high need for lime fertilisation.
Accordingto the Federal Environment Agency, Germany has developed various programs andmeasures against increased air pollution. For example, there are plans toreduce coal use significantly. Germany has also invested heavily in thedevelopment of renewable energy sources such as solar power. For transport, newvehicle regulations should be made public and the use of electric vehicles (EVs)and public transport should be increased. The agricultural sector is to beimproved mainly through revised fertilizer regulations in the interests of air quality.
Oneof these programs is the Clean Air Emergency Plan 2017-2020, which focuses onimproving air quality in cities. In this programme, urban commercial transportis to be increasingly powered by electricity. Local public transport (ÖPNV) busfleets, taxis, rental cars and car-sharing vehicles are also to be electrified.Overall, the infrastructure for electric vehicles is to be expanded andimproved through multiple grants. The municipal transportation system is alsoto be completely digitalised as a result of the measures, and diesel-fuelledpublic transport buses are to be fitted with improved exhaust filtration systemsor catalysts. A financial incentive to buy electric cars is to be providedthrough appropriate support. Likewise, similar environmentally consciousretrofitting and hybrid transport are to be financially supported. Above all,cycling is to be significantly encouraged through improved infrastructure, suchas the introduction of cycle paths and other transport measures suitable forcyclists.
Airquality in Germany is measured by air quality monitoring stations that measureair pollutants such as particulate matter PM10 and PM2.5, nitrogen dioxide (NO2),lead, benzene, carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxide. They areoften set up in places with heavy traffic. When setting up the measuringdevice, specific distance values must be observed; a minimum distance of 0.5 mto buildings applies, as well as being at least 25 m away from the nextintersection. The air measuring station may have a maximum distance of 10 mfrom the road and must be at a height of between 1.5 and 4 m. Theserequirements are monitored by the European Commission. Compliance with theserules is checked at least every 5 years. The measuring methods of the device arealso legally required throughout Europe. In addition to the official measuringstations operated by environmental authorities, there are now also numerousmeasuring stations operated by non-governmental organisations, researchinstitutions and private individuals. This has been made possible above all bythe spread of so-called low-cost air quality measuring stations (Low-Cost AirQuality Sensors). These compact measuring stations often cost only a fewhundred euros and can be networked via Wi-Fi with real-time air qualityplatforms such as IQAir AirVisual.
In Germany there is often discussion about a speed limit on the motorway. It hasbeen proven that vehicles emit fewer pollutants into the air at a lower speed.For this reason, a lower speed limit has already been introduced in many townsand villages. This reduces noise pollution, leads to better air quality and togreater road safety. In 2018, the Federal Environment Agency in Germanycalculated the amount of CO2 that would be saved by a speed limit onmotorways. With a speed limit of 120 km/h, a reduction of 2.6 million tonneswould be achieved, and 1.9 million tonnes at 130 km/h. In 2018, without a speedlimit, 39.1 million tonnes of CO2 equivalents were released into theair on German motorways through emissions from passenger cars and commercialvehicles.
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