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POLLUTION

Germany is Europe’s biggest polluter

German industry causes more environmental and health damage than any other country in the European Union, amounting to billions of euros each year, according to a new EU report.

Germany is Europe's biggest polluter
Photo: DPA

The study by the European Environment Agency (EEA) released Thursday ranked Germany ahead of other serious polluters like Britain, France or any eastern European countries.

But if the polluters were ranked based on economy size, eastern countries such as Bulgaria and Romania would be on top, according to the environmental watchdog.

The agency, which used 2009 numbers in factors including CO2 emissions, said that pollution from facilities like steelworks and power plants caused between €102 billion and €169 billion in health and environmental costs across the European Union.

That’s about €200 per person in the EU, but Germany accounted for about a fifth of those costs, according to the environmental watchdog.

Most of the expenses were related to treatment people need for persistent respiratory problems and the damaging cost of acid rain, the agency said.

The EEA underlined that none of the individual industrial facilities were operating illegally, but it reported that just 622 facilities across the continent – representing about six percent of the total number – were responsible for three quarters of the industrial pollution damage to Europe’s health and environment.

“We cannot afford to ignore these problems,” said EEA head Jaqueline McGlade in a statement.

It may not be surprising that German industry causes extensive pollution because it has the EU’s largest population, at more than 80 million.

The country has also been a leader in pollution reduction efforts. Berlin’s air was recently named as having Europe’s cleanest, though German cities Düsseldorf and Stuttgart were at the bottom of the list.

The Local/DPA/mdm

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POLLUTION

‘Infringement on air quality’: EU court slams Germany for pollution in cities

The EU's top court ruled on Thursday that Germany continually violated upper limits for nitrogen dioxide, a polluting gas from diesel motors that causes major health problems, over several years.

'Infringement on air quality': EU court slams Germany for pollution in cities
Cars sit in traffic in Stuttgart's Hauptstätter Straße in July 2020. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Sebastian Gollnow

Germany infringed air quality rules “by systematically and persistently exceeding” the annual nitrogen dioxide limit in 26 out of 89 areas from 2010 to 2016, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) said in its ruling.

The European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, referred the matter to the ECJ in 2018 after almost a decade of warnings that went unaddressed.

The decision against Europe’s top economy echoes a ruling targeting France in October 2019 after the commission stepped up its anti-pollution fight in the wake of the so-called “Dieselgate” scandal that erupted in 2015 with revelations about Germany’s Volkswagen.

The motors caught up in the scandal — in which automakers installed
special emission-cheating devices into their car engines — are the main emitters of nitrogen oxides that the European Environment Agency says are responsible for 68,000 premature deaths per year in the EU.

READ ALSO: Five things to know about Germany’s dieselgate scandal

Nitrogen dioxide is toxic and can cause significant respiratory problems as one of the main constituents of traffic-jam smog.

Under EU rules, member countries are required to keep the gas to under 40 micrograms per cubic metre — but that level is often exceeded in many traffic-clogged European cities.

The judgement opens the way to possible sanctions at a later stage. However the air quality throughout much of Germany has improved in the last five years, particularly during the shutdowns in the pandemic.

The environment ministry said that 90 cities exceeded national pollution limits in 2016 — the final year covered by the court ruling. By 2019, the number had fallen to 25 and last year, during the coronavirus outbreak, it was just six.

The case involved 26 areas in Germany, including Berlin, Hamburg, Munich and Stuttgart as well as urban and rural areas in North Rhine-Westphalia, Mainz, Worms/Frankenthal/Ludwigshafen and Koblenz/Neuwied.

“Furthermore, Germany infringed the directive by systematically and
persistently exceeding, during that period, the hourly limit value for NO2 in two of those zones” — the Stuttgart area and the Rhine-Main region.

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