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Image: picture-alliance/dpa

Dirtier air

February 6, 2012

German air pollution levels were higher in 2011 than in previous years, despite environmental zones banning certain cars from urban areas. Authorities attribute the rise to weather and industry.


German authorities say air pollution levels were higher last year than in preceding years, despite the country's 'environmental zones' that limit which cars may enter cities.

The Federal Environment Agency (UBA) said preliminary results of a report indicated that some forms of pollution were worse in 2011 than in 2007, before environmental zones were introduced.

The zones, which came into force in 2008, require cars to carry a green, yellow or red sticker identifying a vehicle's level of exhaust pollution. Environmental zones prohibit dirtier vehicles, typically older ones, from entering major urban areas.

There are now 54 of these areas across Germany.

The burden of registering vehicles has led to resistance to the scheme, but an expert behind the report defended the zones' efficacy.

"We have a better chance of reducing particulate matter in the air with environmental zones than without them," Hans-Joachim Hummel told the dpa news agency.


Ein Verkehrsschile weist am Montag, 17. Dezember2007 in Koeln darauf hin, dass dort ab den 1. Januar 2008 eine Umweltzone eingerichtet ist. Diese ist nur noch von Fahrzeugen mit einer Umweltplakette befahrbar. (AP Photo/Hermann J. Knippertz) --- A traffic sign marks the environmental zone in Cologne, Germany, on Monday, Dec. 17, 2007. (AP Photo/Hermann J. Knippertz)
Many German cities have introduced environmental zones, to cut cars' pollution.Image: AP

According to the report's findings, 42 percent of measuring stations across German cities reported excessive levels of particulate pollution and 57 percent reported excessive levels of nitrogen dioxide.

Excessive levels meant more than 35 days a year of particulate matter exceeding 50 micrograms per cubic meter or 40 micrograms for nitrogen dioxide.

BUA President Jochen Flasbarth stressed that environmental zones were only part of the answer to cutting air pollution.

Industry was also responsible for much of the fine particulate matter and nitrogen dioxidein the air, he said.

Weather's role

Dr. Michal Krzyzanowski, a World Health Organization expert on air pollution, told DW that the disappointing 2011 results could also be attributed to stable weather in Germany over the last year.

High pressure systems can help concentrate pollution levels, even when emissions remain constant.

He said Europe had not achieved major reductions in pollution since 2000.

"The fact that air pollution levels have increased again shows that the current environmental measures in Europe are not achieving enough," Krzyzanowski added.

Room to improve

Fahrradweg in Münster
More bicycle lanes would be one way to reduce particulate matter in cities, says Hilgenberg.Image: picture alliance/dpa

Jens Hilgenberg, a traffic expert at German environmental organization BUND, said environmental zones had helped reduce one of the worst pollutants, diesel exhaust particulates.

"These smaller particles are particularly dangerous," Hilgenberg said. "They go down a long way into the lungs, and for the environment they are a problem too, because they are transported easier by winds to the polar regions."

Hilgenberg said the best way to tackle air pollution was to invest in alternative forms of transport for people, such as bike paths and better public transport .

Krzyzanowski said responsibility lay with individuals.

"People need to realize that there isn't just one big pipe going into the sky producing this pollution. Everyone plays a role when it comes to the atmosphere."

Author: André Leslie
Editor: Nathan Witkop

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