Legal situation

© Gisela Peter /

In order to protect human health and the environment, the Council of the European Union drew up a directive with air quality standards in April 1999. With the Ordinance on Air Quality Standards and Emission Ceilings (39. BImSchV), the Federal Government transposed this EU directive into national legislation. The directive establishes limit values for pollutant concentration in order to maintain the air quality.

Accordingly, the limit value for particulate matter was set at 50 µg/m³, which may be exceeded on a maximum of 35 days a year. The average annual value for nitrogen dioxide was set at 40 µg/m³. The EU directive obliges cities and municipalities to draw up action plans for air pollution control. These plans have formed the basis for the implementation of 48 Low Emission Zones (LEZ) with limited access for vehicles with high emissions so far.

Your right to clean air

If the limit values are not met due to the lack of regulations or measures, citizens may legally enforce the implementation of such measures. Initially, cities where limit values have been exceeded regularly may be requested by applications to take immediate action to comply with the EU limit values. In such cases, cities have four weeks time to comply with the request and to draw up or further develop a clean air plan.

If the city or municipality does not take any action within this period of time that is likely to improve the situation within a reasonable period, individuals affected may sue the authority that is responsible for drawing up such a plan. Anybody living or working most of their time in a polluted environment may take legal action. This means not only residents but also physicians in medical practices on busy roads, for example, educators in a kindergarten or parents for their children, if the kindergarten is located in an area heavily affected by particulate matters. Environmental organisations may also take action under the EU Environmental Law in their own right.