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Air Pollution in Berlin

Current Situation and Trends

Analyses of air quality measurements show that in general, the air is getting cleaner. The air pollutants which have so far been typical of Berlin - caused mainly by power stations, indusries and domestic fuel - have been drastically reduced. This is particularly evident in the case of sulphur dioxide: Levels of this chemical have fallen to one-third of the 1976 values. The levels present in suspended dust have been reduced by half. No smog warning has had to be issued since 1991.

Sulphur Dioxide (SO2)

This favourable situation was achieved mainly as a result of technical improvements in the Western part of the city: modernisation of old houses which had previously burned mostly coal, a switch to coal with lower sulphur content and the installation of filters in power stations. From 1989 onwards, these measures were also implemented immediately in East Berlin. The main problems there lie in excessive emissions from inner city residential areas and industrial and commercial facilities. The sulphur dioxide emissions from domestic fuel in 1989 demonstrate this unequal distribution.

In the meantime, however, a very large number of houses and apartments have been converted to other forms of heating. Conversion from major heating plants has almost been completed . In the spring of 1995, total domestic fuel emissions in the Eastern part of the city lay just under 13% of 1989 levels. Even in the already largely modernised Western part, sulphur dioxide emissions were halved again during the same period. This development is also reflected in the considerably lower levels of air pollution registered in 1994.

As a result of this unequal emissions structure, the values registered by the air quality measurement network for 1989 showed - as expected - that East Berlin's city centre had the highest levels of sulphur dioxide. Today, however, the low levels recommended in EU guidelines (40 - 60 ug/m3/year) have already been attained in the whole city, even though the Senate had adopted this as only a mediumterm objective. The city's still unequal emissions structure is the reason why current and future modernisation policy concentrates on specific areas: The main focus of our efforts remains modernisation of heating supplies for residential areas and workplaces in East Berlin. A good proportion of this work has already been done over the past few years. The 1994 figures show that pollution has decreased dramatically and is virtually identical in the Eastern and Western parts of the City.


The Senate's aim is to safeguard the reduced levels of sulphur dioxide already achieved and to ensure that levels of all pollutants continually fall below those laid down in EU guidelines.

Measures and Projects

Conversion of the 642 smaller, also brown-coal-fired heating plants belonging to housing construction companies in East Berlin to nun on more environmentally friendly fuel will be completed at the latest by the 1995/96 heating period.

In the public sector too, modernisation is in full swing. Conversion of 221 heating systems in public buildings in the inner city has almost been compieted.

In large sections of the inner city, but also in major residential areas like Marzahn and Hiellersdorf, considerable progress has already been made in modernising existing housing. About 150,000 housing units belonging to housing construction companies in the Eastern part of the city have already been converted to energy-saving and low-emission systems as part of a heating modernisation programme. The large number of housing units means, however, that modernisation will take some time yet.

The modernisation of power stations in the West was completed in 1994 when nitrogen oxide removal equipment was installed. The equipment is all in operation.

The Klingenberg heating and power station, which used to be Berlin's major producer of sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and dust, was fitted with a fume desulphurisation plant in 1990. In 1993, its emissions of sulphur dioxide fell from 22,247 tonnes to 1,174 tonnes, while dust output was reduced from 731 tonnes to 51 tonnes. When all the measures to reduce NOx emissions have been implemented in 1995/96, this plant too will fall far below the prescribed ceilings on emissions.

Nitrogen Oxides (NOx)

In contrast to the situation with sulphur dioxide and dust, developments in the field of nitrogen oxide emissions and immissions have not yet reached a satisfactory stage. In general, no significant reductions have been achieved in this field over the last few years. The substantial successes in the power station and heating sector have been balanced out by negative developments in the traffic sector . Although current forecasts for 1996 predict that total emissions in Berlin will fall by over half due as a result of measures to reduce nitrogen oxide output from power stations, the proportion accounted for by traffic will increase slightly.

For immissions as a whole - i.e. the air breathed by the population - this means a stagnation or only a slow reduction in pollution. In quantitative as well as qualitative terms, traffic will therefore be Berlin's number one environmental problem in the future .

Of the approximately 1.3 million motor vehicles in Berlin, about 800,000 are registered in the West and 500,000 in the East. In 1994, 55% were equipped with catalytic converters. The level of motorisation - i.e. the number of motor vehicles per head of the population - has risen steadily since 1970 but is still well below the average of 480 vehicles per 1,000 inhabitants in the old federal states. When applied to the area of the city, this means 1,400 motor vehicies per square kilometre. Parking space for this amount of vehicles alone constitutes about 26% percent of the total area currently available for traffic.

In contrast to most other air pollutants, most of these contaminants are concentrated in the Western part of the city. Emissions on the main roads and in the city centre as a whole are particularly high. This is particularly obvious on the city motorway which is one of Europe's busiest highways with a traffic volume of 130,000 to over 200,000 vehicles per day.

Because of the poor exchange of air, main roads surrounded on both sides by an uninterrupted series of buildings are particularly problematic. Measurements taken here show that in many cases, the test values contained in the "Ordinance on the Federal Immissions Protection Act" (draft version) are exceeded. This is particularly true of the carcinogenic air pollutants benzol and diesel soot.

The measures already implemented,

  • from January 1sth, 1993 onwards, all motor vehicies with gasoline engines have had to be equipped with a regulated catalytic converter (achieves a 90 % reduction) and
  • from January 1sth, 1996 onwards, all new lorries and buses will have to have cleaner diesel engines which fulfil the Euro-Norm 11 (achieves a 50 % reduction)
will not be enough to comply with these values.

If Berlin develops the same way as comparable conurbations in West Germany, there will be further drastic increases in traffic volume.


Our aim must be to achieve levels which continually fall below the ceilings stipulated by EU guidelines, also for nitrogen oxides.

Since nitrogen oxides play a role as precursors to the formation of ozone, we must aim at reducing emissions considerably (see Ozone). In order to reduce the burden placed on the population and the environment by motor traffic to a tolerable level, we must make full use of all approaches to resolving the traffic problem.

Measures and Projects

Since the city centre suffers most from the traffic burden, the Senate has decided that

  • beginning in 1998, only "clean" cars
  • from 1999 on, only "clean" delivery vans and
  • from the year 2000 on, only "clean" lorries and buses will be allowed into Berlin's city centre

Taking account of traffic-avoidance measures in residential development plans, rational traffic handling and control, promoting and increasing the attractivity of local public transport and parking area management are other measures which can serve to reduce emissions caused by traff ic.

3. In future, greater support is to be given to reducing emissions by making technical improvements to lorries and buses and by replacing petroi and diesel with the less polluting natural gas including the development of a network of the necessary filling stations.


Ozone, which is also produced mainly by traffic, has acquired considerabie significance recently. Ozone is created from nitrogen oxides and hydrocarbons under very sunny conditions and is also transported to Berlin over long distances. Since the formation of ozone takes a number of hours, the highest levels of ozone in Berlin occur on the outskirts of the city or - depending upon the direction and speed of the wind - further outside Berlin. The ozone encountered within Berlin itself, on the other hand, is largely transported in from the outside.


The Senate is aiming to achieve levels below the ceilings laid down in the EU guidelines on ozone in the course of the next few years. This will only be feasible if levels of the substances from which ozone is derived - i.e. nitrogen oxides and hydrocarbons - are reduced by at least half within the Berlin conurbation but also on a national and European scale.

Measures and Projects

1. Acknowledging the importance of the issue, Berlin's ozone measurement network was increased to a total of 10 stations in the summer of 1994.

2. In 1994, the formation and distribution of ozone in the Greater Berlin area was investigated in a joint project with the Federal State of Brandenburg and in collaboration with several scientific working groups. Two aircraft equipped with special measuring equipment were used as part of the project.

3. The Federal Immissions Protection Act is currently being supplemented to create the legal basis for a "summer smog" ordinance which will include driving restrictions - particularly for cars which have no regulated catalytic converter.

Biological Effects

Improvements to air quality with regard to sulphur dioxide and dust also have positive effects on the living conditions of indicator organisms (such as lichen). The level of damage to temporarily exposed lichen has fallen drastically.

Whereas at the beginning of the 80s, virtually all the lichen exposed to the air around the urban rail (S Bahn) network died after only a short time, death rates in the winter of 1991/1992 were under 20%. There are still marked regional differences between

  • the Berlin area (the city)
  • the surrounding area which is affected by it and
  • unaffected areas approximately 70 kilometres away (reference).


Projects aimed at ensuring adequate living conditions for sensitive organisms and ecosystems important to Berlin are being implemented in the field of clean air policy. The success of these measures with regard to organisms and ecosystems will continue to be monitored.

Measures and Projects

1. In order to ensure monitoring of the biological effects of air pollutants on plants, animals and eco-systems, the Programme for onitoring the Natural Balance is to be continued.

2. The use of biological indicators as part of a register of the ecological effects of irnmissions and long-term ecological observatiori of forest ecosystems in Berlin and its surrounding areas (approximately 3,000 km') will ensure that the effects of immissions are assessed, damaging factors evaluated, and chronic effects over specific periods of time c haracterised.

Source: Environmental Strategies for Berlin, Ministry for Urban Development, 1995

Copyright 1995-2002 by:   ESS   Environmental Software and Services GmbH AUSTRIA