Experts from the Federal Environment Agency have taken a close look at the fine dust and pollutant levels in 15 major cities.
Munich – As the saying goes: Man lives on air and love. Love can be worked on, but what about the air? A question that experts from the Federal Environment Agency regularly investigate to what extent they collect fine dust and pollutant values. The company iRobot, an American-Swiss manufacturer of air purification technologies, has now evaluated the official values and looked at the values of 15 major German cities.
Berlin should therefore be Germany’s dirty air capital. For this purpose, the values of nitrogen dioxide, ozone, benzene and sulfur dioxide concentrations in the air as well as data on fine dust and the heavy metals it contains were analysed. Essen and Düsseldorf follow Berlin as cities with particularly dirty air. The best cities in comparison are Munich, Frankfurt am Main, Bremen and Hanover.
15 major cities in the air pollution check: Berlin with the highest fine dust values
In addition to particulate matter (PM2.5), nitrogen dioxide, ozone, benzene and sulfur dioxide, measurements of the air breathed in German cities show varying concentrations of heavy metals such as arsenic, lead, cadmium and nickel (see table). The values were used to draw conclusions about the air quality.
According to the table, Berlin has the highest annual average fine dust values. One reason for the poor performance is apparently the approximately 1.2 million registered vehicles in the capital that leave their mark in the air. According to the Federal Environment Agency, in addition to the classic exhaust emissions, abrasion particles from tires, brakes and the road surface also make a significant contribution to the fine dust profile.
15 major cities in the air pollution check: Particulate matter pollution in Munich is significantly lower in comparison
Particulate matter is a mixture of different substances. The most common and most harmful are the heavy metals arsenic, lead, cadmium and nickel. A city comparison shows that Berlin has by far the highest concentrations of these heavy metals in the air. In many cases, the annual mean values in Berlin exceed the concentrations in other cities by a factor of two or three.
The fine dust pollution in Munich, on the other hand, is on average 25 percent lower than in Berlin. This makes Munich the city with the least fine dust pollution of all the cities examined.
- particulate matter is mainly generated by human activity: Primary fine dust is caused by emissions from motor vehicles, power plants and district heating plants, ovens and heaters in residential buildings, in metal and steel production or when bulk goods are transshipped. However, it can also be of natural origin – for example as a result of soil erosion. In urban areas, road traffic is the dominant source of dust. Particulate matter is not only released into the air from engines – sometimes from diesel engines – but also from brake and tire wear and from dust being whirled up from the road surface.
Source: Federal Environment Agency
15 major cities in the air pollution check: ozone levels significantly exceeded
The ozone value is exceeded in all analyzed cities. Most frequently in Stuttgart with 26 days with an ozone value of over 120 µg/m³ per year, followed by Wiesbaden with 25 days and Munich with 21 days. In Hamburg, on the other hand, the ozone value is only exceeded eight days a year.
Also striking is the high concentration of the irritant nitrogen dioxide (NO2) in Stuttgart. Stuttgart has a 40 percent higher concentration of nitrogen dioxide per year than Hanover. Which is certainly also related to the city’s basin location. Stuttgart tends towards smog and thick air. Road traffic in particular is a significant source of NO2.
15 major cities in the air pollution check: deaths could be avoided
The environmental and nature conservation association BUND warns that air pollution from particulate matter, nitrogen oxides and ground-level ozone is a serious health risk. The EU Environment Agency (EEA) estimates that in 2019 alone, more than 300,000 people in Europe died prematurely as a result of fine dust, including tens of thousands in Germany. At least 58 percent or 178,000 of those deaths could have been avoided if all EU member states had met the new WHO air quality guideline, the EEA said.
The WHO has long recommended stricter limits for particulate matter. With stricter requirements, EU pollutants in the air, water and soil will be reflected to such an extent by 2050 that they will no longer harm people and nature.
Data from the study of pollution levels in 15 major cities:
- The data comes from the annual balances of air data from the Federal Environment Agency. The values for particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide and ozone are from 2021. The remaining values from 2019. The study is a city comparison based on the average concentration of health pollutants in the air. The 15 most populous cities were examined.
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