RESIDENTS OF CITIES ACROSS GERMANY are suing the federal government over health issues and concerns caused by air pollution nationwide.

The German government failed to respond after global experts at the World Health Organisation (WHO) slashed recommended thresholds last year – in some cases by around 75 per cent. German air pollution law remains unchange healthd.

This leaves people breathing in air that can contain up to four or five times the amount of toxic pollution that scientists know is dangerous – and authorities with no mandate to change the situation.

This failure to align with the science, the claimants say, is leaving their and their children’s health at the mercy of toxic pollution and infringes their fundamental rights.

The seven claimants, from Germany’s  four most polluted cities, include parents acting on behalf of their children and several asthma sufferers. They are demanding the government take immediate action to tighten the laws to protect them and their families from dangerous pollution. They are supported by environmental organisations ClientEarth and Deutsche Umwelthilfe.

Claimant Constanze, from Düsseldorf, said: “I’m taking action for my two children. They deserve to grow up healthy – living in a city should not condemn them to getting sick because of air pollution, and carrying its impacts with them for the rest of their lives.

“My goal with this challenge is to prevent any more avoidable damage to people’s health from air pollution – it’s our government’s duty to protect my children, and all of us.”

Volker, a claimant from Munich, said: “Air pollution may not often be named the official cause of death, but it claims lives – and causes long-term diseases, including cancer, heart problems, shortness of breath and strokes. I myself suffer with asthma.

“In many ways air pollution is an invisible issue – not enough people understand how badly it’s affecting them. Politicians are doing too little to protect people – particularly those most exposed. There are many ways to reduce pollution, but what’s missing is the political will to implement them. To change that, I am now suing for my right to breathe clean and healthy air.”

While pollution in Germany has sunk significantly in the past few years, and now often complies with current EU law, the goalposts have moved: the WHO has dropped what it deems acceptable by a factor of four or five in some cases. This means that even though cities are no longer illegally polluted, people are still breathing dangerously dirty air.

ClientEarth fundamental rights lawyer Irmina Kotiuk said: “We have somehow ended up living in a world where transport and industry seem to have more rights than people themselves. The scale of the problem is clear – more data emerges every year on how many people are affected by air pollution, how many people die early, and the myriad ways breathing toxic air can harm and alter our bodies. Yet while there are some local champions, national governments are painfully slow to address it.”

The EU is currently reforming its principal air quality law – the Ambient Air Quality Directive (AAQD) – which sets the upper pollution thresholds for the whole bloc. However, once agreed, the adoption and implementation process means EU Member States won’t be obliged to comply with new limits for several years.

Kotiuk added: “There has always been an epic delay when it comes to EU countries complying with air pollution law – they need to take action now to prevent any more lives being blighted unnecessarily, and any more children carrying the legacy of dirty air for life.

“What’s needed here is simple – alignment of national air quality laws with the science laid out by the world’s leading experts. This is the bare minimum our leaders should be doing to protect people.”

 The action is being filed in the Federal Administrative Court of Germany – the country’s highest court. The laws and commitments invoked are Germany’s ‘basic’ or fundamental law (Grundgesetz), and Germany’s signature to the European Convention on Human Rights and the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. Pollutants under scrutiny are nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and fine particulate matter (PM2.5).

* Source: ClientEarth