Berliners have barely started showing the new emissions badge required for driving into the city center, and the air is getting thick. Thick with accusations. The popular gearhead weekly, AutoBild, has thrown down the gauntlet: "The Soot is Gone" screams the headline over the question: "Can the environment zones be abolished?"
Could AutoBild have a point?High levels of soot in the air are blamed for the death of 350,000 Europeans each year. Among the countries violating the EU health standards, in 2006 Germany measured 99 locations which exceeded the limits more than 35 days a year. Action was taken: polluting cars were banned from entering the problem zones.
Then scandal struck: filter fraud. Auto owners doing their best to bring their cars up to spec were sold defective filters. Quick intervention by authorities cleaned up that mess, minimizing the aggravation as much as possible for the victims.
Now, as the first police controls are still issuing only warnings, the next scandal breaks. AutoBild reports that in 2007, the soot was already gone. The metering stations tracking air quality reported only good news. Experts attribute the reduction in alarms to the weather: if the weather is to blame, why are the authorities pinning the burden on car drivers? And if the soot is gone, do we still need a pollution control law?
Well, look a little deeper. The weather in 2007 was breezier, and wetter. Is dilution the solution to pollution? It is true that if the concentration of pollutants is reduced by washing out the dust or blowing it away, the health can also be expected to improve. But will the weather cooperate again in 2008?
Furthermore, 24 measuring stations did exceed the health limits for more than 35 days per year: the double whammy that triggers European requirements to be implemented to improve the air quality. Granted, that is a 76% reduction over 2007, but it is still 24 locations with air quality believed to be harmful, maybe even deadly.
We say stick with the program Germany. The emissions badges will require more polluting autos to be phased out over a number of years. And maybe drivers will decide to take a bike instead, helping to meet the goals to increase bicycles in the inner cities.