Particulate matter and other air pollutants
Breathing clean air is a basic human need. However, air pollution is caused by human activities. Energy consumption, road transport, agriculture and the production of goods are the main sources. Of all air pollutants, particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide affect human health the most. Stringent limit values and measures to prevent emissions from industry, transport and private households have helped to significantly decrease air pollution in Germany compared to previous decades. However, concentrations of particulate matter and nitrogen oxides still exceed current limit values. Some particulate matter in the air is caused by the conversion of gaseous air pollutants such as sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds and ammonia. These air pollutants also damage ecosystems and their biological diversity and lead to higher ozone concentrations which are detrimental to human health.
What is the difference between emissions and immissions?
Emissions are generally defined as the release of substances or energy from a source into the environment. The Federal Immission Control Act defines emissions as air pollution, noise or odour originating from an installation. Immission relates to the effects of emissions on the environment. With regard to air pollution control, this means the effect of air pollutants on plants, animals, human beings and the atmosphere.
The Sixth Environment Action Programme of the EU, substantiated through interim targets laid down in the Thematic Strategy on Air Pollution in 2005, aims to attain levels of air quality that do not give rise to significant negative impacts on and risks to human health and environment. In particular, it aims to reduce the burden of ground level ozone, acidification, eutrophication (over-fertilisation through nitrogen inputs) and particulate matter. The interim European reduction targets for emissions in 2020 compared to 2000 are as follows:
- sulphur dioxide by 82 percent
- nitrogen oxides by 60 percent
- volatile organic compounds by 51 percent
- ammonia by 27 percent
- particulate matter (PM2.5) by 59 percent
The German government's policy
The German government bases air pollution control on four strategies:
- laying down environmental quality standard
- emission reduction requirements according to the best available technology
- product regulations
- laying down emission ceilings
The limit values are more and more often stipulated in European air pollution control directives and then transposed into German law. Important European directives include, for example, Directive 2008/50/EC on ambient air quality and cleaner air for Europe, the future directive on industrial emissions and Directive 2001/81/EC on national emission ceilings for certain atmospheric pollutants.
Achievements and further efforts: National programme for the reduction of ozone concentrations and compliance with emission ceilings
Germany is well on the way to meeting the standards for air pollution control set by the European Union. For sulphur dioxide and volatile organic compounds, for example from solvents, it is sufficient to apply the measures already adopted and implemented in the past. Additional reductions are required, however, for nitrogen oxides and ammonia. The necessary reductions in nitrogen oxide emissions will be achieved in the transport sector and in stationary installations. The reduction in ammonia emissions will be achieved by the continued stringent implementation of the German government’s programme for the reduction of ammonia emissions from agriculture.
Important instruments: Federal Immission Control Act and implementing ordinances
Air quality control in Germany is mainly governed by the Act on the Prevention of Harmful Effects on the Environment Caused by Air Pollution, Noise, Vibration and Similar Phenomena, short Federal Immission Control Act (BImSchG) and its implementing ordinances and administrative regulations. In addition, there are also provisions on air quality control at Länder level.
Technical Instructions on Air Quality Control (TA Luft)
The Technical Instructions on Air Quality Control (TA Luft) are a modern instrument for German authorities to control air pollution. They contain provisions to protect citizens from unacceptably high pollutant emissions from installations as well as requirements to prevent adverse effects on the environment. In addition, it lays down emissions limit values for relevant air pollutants from installations. Existing installations must also be upgraded to the best available technology.
Amendment to Ordinance on Small Firing Installations (1. BImSchV)
The amendment to the Ordinance on Small Firing Installations (1. BImSchV), which entered into force in March 2010, was an important step towards reducing particulate matter emissions from small firing installations such as stoves and tiled stoves. Especially the amended requirements for new installations and the modernisation of existing installation will achieve a noticeable average reduction in particulate matter emissions of five to ten percent in the residential areas concerned.
Implementation of the directive on industrial emissions
A large share of the emissions reduction necessary to meet the targets above will be achieved by the implementation of the directive on industrial emissions.
Transboundary air pollution control policy
A significant share of the pollution load is transported through the air over long distances from neighbouring countries. For this reason, shaping a transboundary air pollution control policy is of strategic importance for air quality in Germany. The German government is therefore actively involved in the constructive dialogue on air pollution control measures both at European and international level. One example for this is the cooperation with the Geneva Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution.
Whether it is mobility or heating, everyone can contribute to better air quality. Everyone can help to reduce emissions of particulate matter, sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and ammonia by riding a bike, walking, using public transportation, retrofitting diesel-driven vehicles with particle filters, retrofitting vehicles for environmentally friendly fuels, ensuring regular maintenance of heating installations and following an environmentally aware diet. We can all help secure clean air for future generations by taking action ourselves. We must not relent in our efforts. Air has to stay clean.