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Berlin Environmental Atlas

03.03 Nitrogen Oxides - Emissions and Pollutions (Edition 1994)

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Effect of Nitrogen Oxides

Nitrogen oxides are acidifiers. They are damaging to human health, cause damage to plants, buildings and monuments and are an essential contributor to the excessive formation of ozone and other health-endangering oxidants during the summer heat periods.

Nitrogen oxides and particularly nitrogen dioxide effect persons and animals. They cause irritations to the mucous membranes in the respiratory tract and can increase the risk of infection (cf. Kühling 1986). Also cell changes have been observed (cf. BMUNR 1987). Various epidemiological investigations have shown a connection between deterioration of the lung function, respiratory tract symptoms and increased nitrogen dioxide concentration (cf. Nowak et al. 1994).


Since the beginning of the 80s, along with discussion around the damaging consequences of motor vehicle traffic for the environment, the pollution of the air with nitrogen oxides has also found increased attention. So the permissible pollution limits for nitrogen dioxide were sunk gradually to around 20 to 30 % in the course of serveral revisions to the First General Regulation of the Federal Pollution Control Law (Technical Instruction for Clean Air: TA-Luft).

Exceeding the pollution limits of the TA-Luft and/or the 22 BImSchV (Federal Pollution Control Regulations) can lead to measures being imposed on plants which have been identified the polluters. If the violation can not be associated a certain cause, the responsible authorities must set up an Air Purity Plan and place stiffer demands on the licensing of new plants with regard to the permissible emission.

Moreover the European Community, after limiting the concentration of sulfur dioxide, particulate pollution and lead in the air - with their Guideline from 7 March 1985 on Air Quality Standards, also determined a limit and guide value for nitrogen dioxide. This 98 %-limit was adopted in national law as Regulation 22 for the Implementation of the Federal Pollution Control Law.

Table 1
Tab. 1: Limits, Standard Values and Recommendations for the Nitrogen Dioxide Pollutions in the Air

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

Exceeding the limit of the EC-Guideline are to be reported to the Council of the European Community. The national authorities must present plans for reaching the prescribed limits and a time limit for reaching them. Also should become the guide value of the EC-Guideline is to be taken into account for all traffic - and building planning. While the EC limits are obligatory, Guide values and standard values serve as an orientation and have solely advisory character.

Moreover, in order to maintain the long-term capacity of the ecosystem, pollution limits must be observed, which take into account its sensitivity. Thus the filter effect through the surface structure of forests causes a high pollutant penetration and accumulation. The damaging nitrogen oxides and their by-products cause manifold effects on forest ecosystems. The forest damage research, since beginning of the 80s pursued intensely on an international plane, has delivered new knowledge in the area of pollution effects, which led to establishment a very critical limit. Limits were set by the UN-ECE 1992. These were values (critical levels, critical loads) at which no changes in structure and function of the ecosystem are to be expected. The Federal Republic of Germany belongs to the initial signatories and co-initiators of the treaty and has ratified the resolutions on new strategies for the European clean air policy.

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