Germany: Thousands of deaths per year due to nitrogen oxides

Federal Environmental Agency: Air pollutants are responsible for 6, 000 cardiovascular deaths each year

Nitrogen oxides - among other things from diesel exhaust gases - are responsible for thousands of deaths in Germany every year © Stefan Redel / iStock
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Deadly strain: In Germany, between 6, 000 and 8, 000 people die every year from a cardiovascular disease caused by nitric oxide - at least. Hundreds of thousands of diabetes and asthma cases are also attributable to air pollution with nitrogen oxides, as a study commissioned by the Federal Environmental Agency (UBA) shows. Because the extremely polluted inner cities were excluded, these case numbers are still significantly underestimated, the researchers emphasize.

Fine dust and nitrogen oxides from car exhaust damage health - this is nothing new. Studies show that these pollutants promote asthma, lung cancer and cardiovascular disease. Even the brain and even unborn children can be harmed by the pollutants. It is estimated that nitrogen oxide emissions alone account for more than 100, 000 premature deaths per year worldwide.

How sick do nitrogen oxides in Germany?

But what about in Germany? Researchers have now investigated this on behalf of the Federal Environmental Agency (UBA). For their study, they evaluated maps of the nitrogen dioxide (NO 2 ) pollution from 2007 to 2014, thus determining stress classes for the populations of the various rural and urban regions. The stress hotspots with particularly high NO 2 values ​​were not included in the overall evaluation, but were determined separately for two inner cities as an example.

The consequences of the respective nitric oxide values ​​for health and mortality were determined by the researchers on the basis of previously published studies on this topic. They considered only diseases that are promoted with high safety by nitrogen oxides - these include cardiovascular diseases, asthma and diabetes.

Premature deaths due to cardiovascular diseases due to nitrogen dioxide Federal Environmental Agency (UBA) 2017

6, 000 to 8, 000 more heartbeats per year

The result: between 6, 000 and 8, 000 premature deaths per year in Germany can be attributed to cardiovascular diseases due to an increased nitrogen oxide exposure. In 2014 alone, a total of nearly 50, 000 years of life were lost, according to the researchers. Also, a good 613, 000 cases of high blood pressure this year, they allocate the air pollution. display

In asthma and diabetes, the researchers also found that elevated levels of nitric oxide were involved. According to them, they were responsible for around 439, 000 asthma cases in 2012 this corresponds to around 14 percent of the cases this year. In diabetes, they lead 439, 000 cases of diabetes in 2014 to the increased air pollution this corresponds to about eight percent.

"Still clearly underestimated"

And this is probably greatly underestimated, the researchers emphasize. Because especially in the inner cities with extremely high exhaust pollution health consequences are significantly more serious. They conclude that from the evaluations to stress hotspots, among others in Munich and Berlin. There, the numbers of illnesses and deaths were up to 50 percent higher due to the nitric oxide exposure.

Bert Brunekreef of the University of Utrecht also considers the current figures rather too low: "The end result is therefore likely to underestimate the burden of the disease, " comments the environmental epidemiologist. Not only did the researchers exclude hotspots, they also considered nitrogen oxide levels above ten micrograms per cubic meter because too little is known about the health effects of low concentrations.

"There is a need for action"

"The study shows how much nitrogen dioxide damages health in Germany, " says UBA President Maria Krautzberger. "We should do everything we can to keep our air clean and healthy. There is a need for action, especially in the busy cities. "Overall, the burden of nitrogen dioxide has been falling slightly over the past several years. But in many inner cities, the values ​​are still well above the EU limits.

"A significant cause of harmful nitrogen oxides in the air is clearly diesel cars even outside of the heavily loaded roads, " says Krautzberger. One of the reasons why the Federal Administrative Court has recently declared driving bans on diesel vehicles to be lawful is that the limit values ​​in a city are exceeded. Also, the hardware retrofitting of diesel cars could reduce the load, as recently demonstrated by a test of the ADAC.

The study is available for download on the UBA website.

(Federal Environment Agency (UBA), 08.03.2018 - NPO)