Berlin Environmental Atlas

03.12 Long-Term Development of Air-Quality (2016 Edition)

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For a detailed and complete representation of the long-term development of air pollution in Berlin, numerous separate maps are presented which

  • Both evaluate the findings of the Emissions Register since 1989 (in a grid of 1x1 km),
  • And also display all available measurements of the Immissions Register for selected parameters (annual mean values, and/or infringements of limit or target values).

This archive contains the results of data gathering for particular parameters and measurement stations over an approx. 35-year period.


Berlin is one of those regions in Germany which, due to their air pollution situations, are mandated as investigation areas under § 44 of the Federal Immission Protection Law (BImSchG) to install emissions registers as per § 46. From these emissions, with the aid of dissemination calculations, it is possible to determine the shares which certain groups of sources contribute to the air pollution ascertained.

The emissions of relevant pollutants are determined for the following polluter groups:

  • plants requiring a permit (industrial plants)
  • heating systems not requiring a permit (domestic heating)
  • other plants not requiring a permit (small business)
  • motor vehicle traffic
  • other traffic (rail, ship and air traffic), and
  • other sources.

On the basis of the emissions data for the air parameters sulphur dioxide (SO2) and nitric oxide (NOx) comparably available on all polluter groups, the present maps illustrates the development since 1989. The first survey year possible for all of Berlin still describes the situation prior to reunification, whereas the other survey years show the long-term developments. In order to do justice to current developments, the following changes have been taken into account for the survey year 2008-'09:

  • First, sulphur dioxide (SO2) emissions are no longer shown, since SO2 has for years stagnated at a low level, and its significance for clean-air is no longer great.
  • Second, observation series have been initiated in the Environmental Atlas with regard to the emissions of the two particulate substances, PM10 and PM2.5. This is called for by their great relevance for public health, and the fact that air-quality limit values have been exceeded.

In particular maps, broken down by survey year and polluter group, show clearly which groups have the greatest share of responsibility for the emissions of these two substances in the different parts of the city.

In the context of the Clean Air Plan, 2011-2017, all issues relevant in this context are described in detail.

At this point, the following trends may be summarized (cf. Tab. 1):

  • Since 1989, all emissions have been greatly reduced, with reductions of between 73% for NOx and 95% for sulphur dioxide.
  • The total amount of all industrial plants requiring a permit has decreased significantly since 1989. Partly, this is based on closures of companies, due to the changed political and economic situation. Other reductions in the number of plants are of statistical nature, since due to the changed legal regulations, mandatory authorization has been abolished for a large number of smaller plants. The emissions of these plants have since then been categorized into one of the source groups "domestic heating" or "small business". However, some groups of industrial plants, such as those for the recycling and removal of wastes, have shown a remarkable increase in emissions since the mid-'90s.
  • In the area of domestic heating, which covers not only apartments, but also smaller stores, doctors' practices etc., an impressive decrease in emissions has been achieved, thanks to an increase in pipeline-based energy sources, instead of the formerly predominant brown coal. This is especially obvious with regard to the former lead parameter for air pollution, sulphur dioxide (SO2). The energy-oriented rehabilitation of the old building stock, sponsored by the state of Berlin since 1990 in an exemplary manner, has contributed to this considerably.
  • Meanwhile, motor vehicle traffic is the main cause of several pollutants, such as particulates and oxides of nitrogen. In 2009, road traffic alone accounted for more than 40 % of the nitric oxide emissions in Berlin, while industrial plants caused less than 35 % of the total of these emissions. Since the pollution emitted by road traffic enters the atmosphere close to the ground (or "close to the nose"), it contributes to a much greater degree to air pollution than do pollutants from high smokestacks, which have already been greatly diluted by the time they reach ground level.

Table 1 - Thumbnail
[Approx. 40 KB size.]

Tab. 1: Emissions in Berlin by emissions groups, 1989 to 2020 (trend)

[Table is also available as Excel-File (MS-Excel is required).]

The particulate emissions from the exhaust of motor vehicles, which are a health hazard, have decreased by more than 80% between 1989 and 2009. This figure corresponds very well to measurements of diesel exhaust particulates, the essential share of the particulate emissions from exhaust, measured along streets in densely built-up areas; the measured concentration of diesel exhaust particulates at Measurement Station 174 of the Berlin Clean Air Measurement Network BLUME on Frankfurter Allee in the borough of Friedrichshain dropped by 50% during the period 2000-2008 (cf. also the evaluation of Map 03.12.1, station 174). However, since emissions from tyre abrasion and turbulence have been reduced by only 43 % over these 20 years, motor vehicle traffic remains the second most important source of particulate emissions in Berlin, surpassed only by the category "other sources". The calculated reduction from 2008 to 2009 is due to the use of new, considerably lower emissions factors; in fact, emissions have probably only decreased by the factor of the reduction in traffic volume, or by approximately 10 %. Motor vehicle traffic, including abrasion and turbulence, accounted for share of 29 % of the particulate emissions in Berlin, while the "other sources" category accounted for 51 %. In the case of PM2.5 particulate, the figures were 32 % and 44 %, respectively.

In the case of nitrogen oxides, motor vehicle traffic has since the early 1990s replaced the industrial plant category as the main polluter amongst Berlin sources. In 2009, road traffic had a share of 40 % of the nitrogen oxide emissions in Berlin, whereas industrial plants emitted about 35.2 % of the total.

The atmospheric pollution load caused by road traffic in the inner city area, where some 1 million inhabitants live in an area of approx. 100 sq. km, is relatively high. Especially here, the problems of space utilization and competition for a growing road traffic volume will increase, if current trend conditions continue. Particularly, road transport of goods will, given unchanged conditions, meet increasing capacity limits in road space.


The European guidelines for air quality list a large number of substances which burden the atmosphere especially strongly due to increased anthropogenic production. Throughout the EU, it is necessary to monitor and decrease this extensive phenomenon, and to restrict the environmental damage it causes. The EU Air Quality Directive contains specific immissions values as limit or threshold values, and also target values which are to be attained within a certain period. These values are oriented toward those of the World Health Organisation (WHO), to limit the impairment to human and animal health, and to protect the flora and fauna from environmental hazards (cf. Tab. 2)

The EU Air Quality Directive has been implemented into national law in Germany as the Federal Immission Protection Law, under § 44-46a, under which Berlin is mandated to measure and to publish the measurement results for all air pollutants which may be dangerous for human beings and/or nature. The most important pollutants are: airborne particulates (PM10), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), nitrogen monoxide (NO), nitric oxide (NOx), sulphur dioxide (SO2), carbon monoxide (CO), benzene and ozone (O3). For most of these atmospheric parameters, there are limit values and supplementary tolerance margins (i.e., a sliding scale of annual steps towards attainment of the limit). If these limits are not complied with, special measures must be taken to reduce immission concentrations. Part of this system is the above mentioned Clean Air Plan 2011-2017.
Special attention is to be paid to all polluters and emissions which contribute to a considerable degree to exceeding the key immissions values.

Since 1975, the atmospheric pollution load in Berlin has been monitored with the aid of the Berlin Air Quality Monitoring Network (BLUME) of the Senate Department of Urban Development and Environment. Currently (as of September 2016), the network consists of 16 fixed measurement stations for air pollutant monitoring, and in addition one meteorological station and one mobile measurement unit, the "measurement bus". Each station provides a measurement for each air pollutant very five minutes, and sends it to the Control Centre on Brückenstrasse (borough of Mitte); from this, the half-hourly, hourly and daily values are calculated as the basis for further evaluations.

These calculated values provide a basis for

  • the calculation of statistical values of the atmospheric pollution load for evaluating the air quality by means limit and target values
  • the determination of the pollutant load for permit procedures under the Technical Instructions on Air Quality Control (TA Luft)
  • investigation into the causes of atmospheric pollution load
  • the tracing of the effectiveness of measures to clean the air, and
  • providing information for the public.

Nitrogen monoxide and nitrogen dioxide were measured at all measurement stations (using the chemiluminescence procedure), dust of the PM10 fraction at eleven stations (by measuring the scattering of light by dust particles, up to August 2016 occasionally through absorbtion of beta radiation), ozone at seven stations (through absorbtion of UV radiation), carbon monocide at two stations (through absorbtion of infrared radiation), benzene at four stations (through gas chromatography) and sulphur dioxide at two stations (through UV fluorescence). Heavy metals and benzo(a)pyrene are additionally determined in the PM10 fraction at two and four measurement stations, respectively.

The stations are distributed around the city in such a way that various spatial effect factors can be ascertained. Of the 16 stations, six are along heavily travelled streets, five are in inner-city areas (both residential and commercial) and five are at the periphery of the city or in forest areas. Four stations are equipped with devices for measuring benzene and toluene.

The measured data are sent every hour to the Institute of Meteorology at the Free University of Berlin, and can be queried per phone (0900 1 270 643; a fee is required) to obtain information on the current air quality situation. In summer, specifically, the current ozone load may be accessed; some broadcasting stations also use this service when increased concentrations occur in the city.

Every weekday the measured values of the day before are sent to the press office of the Senate Department of Health, Environment and Consumer Protection, and to several newspapers and radio and TV stations for public broadcast. Additionaly, the values are published on the Internet, and can be accessed there under Tageswerte der letzten 7 Tage ("Daily values for the past seven days"; available only in German). Monthly and annual reports, which, in addition to an evaluation of the preceding measurement, also contain site tables of the measurement stations and an overview of limit and target values, are also available online.

Since 1997, the network has been expanded by initially 20, and now 23 small, low cost sampling devices installed at the streets, the samples of which are analyzed in the laboratory (RUBIS Measurement Network, as of January 2016). With these miniaturized devices, weekly samples of benzene and soot have been collected. In addition, passive collectors have been installed at these sites to ascertain nitric oxide values. These devices collect samples for periods of 14 days, which are then analyzed in the laboratory. These manually generated data are, due to the time lag necessary for analysis between measurement and generation of results, and also due to their minimal temporal resolution, only published as annual mean values in the annual reports.

The results of the measurements of the last years allow the following conclusions to be drawn:

  • Compared with the 1970s and '80s, the atmospheric burden of most air pollutants has been reduced by orders of magnitude. Thus for example, sulphur dioxide concentrations have been reduced by > 90 %, and under no circumstances exceed the EU limit values.
    With regard to PM10, the situation has improved significantly compared to the years at the beginning of this century. However, the PM10 burden strongly depends on the meteorological conditions of propagation. In particular, high pressure conditions in winter with low southerly to easterly winds lead to a high accumulation of PM10 particulates in the air in the Berlin area, some of which are brought to Berlin by long-distance transport and some of which originate from sources within the city, primarily road traffic. In the years with worse exchange conditions, such as 2009-2011 and also 2014, the annual mean PM10 concentrations were slightly higher, whereas in the years with better exchange conditions, such as 2007 and 2008 as well as 2012, 2013 and 2015, they were correspondingly lower. The annual mean concentrations for 2015 detected at the stations of the automatic monitoring network were 17-20 µg/m³ in the suburbs, 22-23 µg/m³ in inner-city areas and 22-29 µg/m³ along heavily travelled streets. Therefore the annual mean limit was not exceeded even at the measuring point with the highest load. Also the RUBIS measurements for 2012 did not find evidence of limit exceedances for PM10 in urban canyons. By contrast, the short-term limit value for PM10 (the daily mean must not exceed the value of 50 µg/m³ more than 35 times a year) was exceeded at one measuring point near roads in 2015. The number of exceedances at this station was 36, with the 36th exceedance only occuring at New Year's Eve due to the fireworks'.
    However, there are still substances which regularly exceed the limits values, in particular areas with road influences. Especially nitrogen dioxide NO2, whose measurements in 2015 were between 41 and 53 µg/m³ near roads. The limit of the 39th BlmSchV (40 µg/m³) effective since 2010 was thus exceeded at all six automatic measuring points near roads, although at station 174 (Frankfurter Allee) only barely with 41 µg/m³. The values for near-ground ozone also frequently exceed the EU's long-term 8-hour target at several sites during the summer months. In Berlin limit values were exceeded on up to 31 days in the summer of 2015 in peripheral areas. The EU-wide target for 2010 of a maximum of 25 days per year averaged over the last 3 years, was fulfilled in 2015, as only 14-23 exceedances were detected. Since 01.01.2010 this target value is to be kept as far as possible.
  • Improvements of the air quality have to do with many components. The de-industrialization of Berlin, the modernization of facilities, the use of catalytic converters in vehicles, and the changeover to more low-emission heating fuels had an impact.

The detailed, always correct overview and compilation of the quality of Berlin's air is provided online here.

But since immissions are also influenced by supra-regional effects and weather events, an analysis of causes cannot be only local, but rather must also investigate the immission of pollutants from outside, including cross-border transportation (cf. again the Berlin Clean Air Plan 2011-2017).

For the present Map 03.12.1 Long-Term Development of Air-Quality - Immissions all available data collected in the measurement programmes described over the past 35 years have been compiled, and prepared statistically and graphically with regard to measurement year. For spatial distribution of current and former measurement stations and measurement points, the following data can be accessed for each station:

  • adress
  • type of station
  • description of neighbourhood (including pictures)
  • coordinates
  • measurement parameters
  • period of measurement
  • measured values (as a graphic and as EXCEL tables).

The character of the sites is broken down into the categories traffic, residential area, industrial, suburban, and meteorological stations.

A total of 187 measurement stations are presented, of which 39 are still in operation (16 BLUME Network measurement containers, and 23 from RUBIS measurement points [as of July 2015]).

For the graphic presentation of the development of the parameters particulate matter (PM10), sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), nitrogen monoxide (NO), carbon monoxide (CO), benzene and ozone (O3), the following limit and target values have been referenced (unless otherwise stated, they are for the purposes of health protection):

Tab. 2: Limit and target values for selected air pollutants (PM10, PM2.5 SO2, NO2, NOx, CO, benzene, ozone, cadmium, nickel, arsenic and benzo(a)pyrene)
Mean value for Limit Value Compliance date
24 h

1 year

50 µg/m³ PM10
35 exceedings/year

40 µg/m³ PM10
since 01.01.2005

since 01.01.2005

Limit value stage 1: 1 year

Limit value stage 2: 1 year

25 µg/m³ PM2.5

20 µg/m³ PM2.5

since 01.01.2015

as of 01.01.2020
1 hr

24 hr

mean value, October - March
(for the protection of ecosystems)
350 µg/m³ SO2
24 exceedings/year

125 µg/m³ SO2
3 exceedings/year

30 µg/m³ SO2
3 exceedings/year
since 01.01.2005

since 01.01.2005

since 01.01.2005
1 hr

1 year

200 µg/m³ NO2
18 exceedings/year

40 µg/m³ NO2
since 01.01.2010

since 01.01.2010
1 year (limit value
for the protection of ecosystems)
30 µg/m³ NOx since 01.01.2002
8 hr

10 µg/m³ CO
maximum 8-hr. mean of a day
since 01.01.2005
1 year

5 µg/m³ benzene since 01.01.2010
8 hr
(target value)
120 µg/m³ ozone
top 8-hr. mean of a day
25 exceedings/ 3-year mean
since 01.01.2010
1 year
(calendar year)
6 ng/m³ arsenic (part of PM10)
(target value)
since 31.12.2012
1 year
(calendar year)
5 ng/m³ cadmium (part of PM10)
(target value)
since 31.12.2012
1 year
(calendar year)
20 ng/m³ nickel (part of PM10)
(target value)
since 31.12.2012
1 year
(calendar year)
1 ng/m³ benzo(a)pyrene (part of PM10)
(target value)
since 31.12.2012
Tab. 2: Limit and target values for selected air pollutants (PM10, PM2.5, SO2, NO2, NOx, CO, benzene, ozone, cadmium, nickel, arsenic and benzo(a)pyrene)
Other statutory limit and target values for air quality provides this overview.

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