Air pollution from diesel exhaust was still too high in 57 german cities in 2018, despite further improvements.
The EU limit value for harmful nitrogen dioxide (NO2) was thus exceeded in eight cities less than in the previous year with 65 cities, according to the federal environment agency (UBA).
In 2016, there had been 90 cities. The trend is moving in the right direction, said president maria krautzberger. However, the previous measures for clean air were not sufficient. Environmentalists also called for further retrofitting of old diesels.
Last year, stuttgart had the highest pollution level in germany, with an annual average of 71 micrograms of NO2 per cubic meter of air. This was followed by darmstadt with 67 micrograms and munich with 66 micrograms, which also significantly exceeded the limit value of 40 micrograms. On average, the annual mean values at measuring stations close to traffic were around 1.5 micrograms per cubic meter of air below those of 2017.
Excessive NO2 levels are reason for driving bans for older diesels in stuttgart, hamburg and darmstadt. Other cities – such as berlin – could follow suit. The german environmental aid association (DUH) had forced the restrictions in court, and further proceedings are underway. According to DUH, the next court hearings are scheduled for 31 december. July to aachen, on 1. August to bonn and on 12. September to colon. A large proportion of the NO2 pollution in cities comes from diesel exhaust emissions.
In 13 cities that were still above the limit in 2017, the annual average was now within the limit. Five cities slipped back into the problematic range, according to the UBA: leipzig, ulm, koblenz, eschweiler in north rhine-westphalia and sindelfingen near stuttgart. As in the previous year, pollution levels exceeded 50 micrograms in 15 cities in 2018. They are considered "intensive cities" for which special assistance is available from the federal government. Dortmund and berlin are newcomers, backnang (baden-wurttemberg) and bochum are now below the mark at 49 and 48 micrograms respectively.
UBA president krautzberger called for rapid retrofitting of old diesels with effective catalytic converters in order to comply with the limit value everywhere. Environmental aid managing director jurgen resch demanded: "the federal government must finally oblige the manufacturers to carry out a hardware upgrade of all dirty diesels at their expense."This is the only way to achieve clean air quickly. The number of particularly polluted cities has not decreased significantly.
The german association of the automotive industry (VDA), on the other hand, spoke of a significant reduction in the number of cities with limit value exceedances. This is mainly due to the fact that 1.1 million diesel cars meeting the new euro 6 emissions standard were registered last year and old cars were taken off the road. This, together with new emissions software, is the most effective way to improve air quality.
The federal government is trying to reduce air pollution in cities and avoid driving bans, among other things, with demand programs. German manufacturers have promised updates to the engine software of older diesels. In addition, car owners are to be persuaded to buy cleaner cars with bonuses. The grand coalition has laid the legal foundations for retrofitting exhaust gas purification directly on the engine, but this has not yet begun for passenger cars.
At the end of january, the UBA had already announced on the basis of initial data that NO2 levels were falling – as a result of speed limits, traffic restrictions, more new cars, software updates, but also because of the weather. If a city exceeds the limit value, this does not mean that the air is bad everywhere. The measuring station with the highest annual mean value pays the price. The european union has taken germany and five other states to the european court of justice (eugh) for failing to comply with the limits.
The UBA receives the NO2 data from the environmental authorities of the federal states, which are responsible for the measurements. In november, the federal environment ministry announced that it would have the tuv inspect the locations of the stations. These checks have now been completed, a spokeswoman told the german press agency. The report is expected to be presented in june. EU directive on station siting gives some leeway.
The FDP again criticized the measurement methods. "Driving bans cannot be prevented as long as the green measurement madness continues in germany," said traffic expert oliver luksic. Faction vice chairman frank sitta demanded that measuring points should not be set up in the immediate vicinity of emission sources, but rather where they are representative of a larger catchment area.
In the case of fine particulate matter (MP10), the limit value was only exceeded at one industrial monitoring station in 2018. However, the UBA stated that pollution levels are still too high and pose a risk to health. If the stricter recommendations of the world health organization (WHO) are taken as a yardstick, 78 percent of all 374 measuring points measure too much fine dust. Small towns and rural areas will also be affected. On 35 days a year the pollution may be more than 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air, but the WHO recommends only a maximum of three days with values above 50 micrograms.