German Citizens Sue Government over Pollution

In September 2022, the campaign against air pollution had a breakthrough as seven residents in Germany took legal action against the German government. The citizens sued their government because, according to them, there hasn’t been any improvement in the country’s policies on air pollution since new air quality guidelines were released by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2021. 

The claimants reside in four of the largest cities in Germany – Dusseldorf, Frankfurt, Munich, and Berlin. Some of them are parents of children who now have asthma. They believe that government officials aren’t doing their part in protecting their citizens against the adverse effects of air pollution. Emission levels were reportedly higher than the WHO-mandated limits by at least five times. 

Deutsche Umwelthilfe and ClientEarth, both respected and active environmental groups, helped and supported the residents.

The claimants

Dusseldorf resident Constanze joined the legal action on behalf of her children. Like every parent, she wants them to grow strong and healthy. Health impacts caused by exposure to toxic air can be life-changing and usually lasts a lifetime. 

Munich resident Volker Becker-Battaglia describes air pollution as a killer, one that cannot be seen. He knows what he is talking about because his home is situated in one of the most highly polluted areas in Germany. He says that every day, around 150,000 vehicles drive through their street. The poor air quality in their area is the biggest reason why they always find time to travel to places that take them far from the city.

Volker also said that the fact that many residents still do not fully understand the negative effects of air pollution complicates the situation. 

While the citizens acknowledge that the government has policies aimed at reducing air pollution, implementing them is the bigger problem. Not all concerned authorities seem to have the political will to strictly apply the policies. 

What the residents are asking the government to do is align Germany’s air quality policies with the new WHO guidelines. The claimants are not after any financial compensation; they just want strict implementation and action. 

If the claimants win their case, the court’s ruling will be implemented across Germany.

How toxic air affects human health

While everybody is already aware of what toxic air can do to the environment, many people are still unaware of the adverse impacts poor air quality has on human health.

Air pollution has major effects on a person’s health, so much so that even low-level exposure can already cause breathing problems, respiratory illnesses such as asthma, and even dementia and heart ailments. Exposure to toxic air has also been proven to cause cancer, specifically in the lungs. 

There are serious impacts as well, especially for those who are regularly exposed to road transport emissions.

What are road transport emissions?

Road transport emissions come from vehicles, particularly diesel-powered ones. They emit nitrogen oxides or NOx, a group of gases composed of nitric oxide or NO and nitrogen dioxide or NO2. It plays a significant role in the formation of smog and acid rain and can produce pollutants such as ground-level ozone. 

However, what concerns Germany’s citizens most are the health conditions that may develop after a person is exposed to NOx. Aside from breathing difficulties, asthma and other respiratory illnesses, dementia, and cancer, a person can also develop:

  • Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease or COPD (resulting from a combination of different respiratory ailments)
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Pulmonary oedema 
  • Laryngospasm
  • Asphyxiation
  • Cardiovascular diseases
  • Premature death

Vehicles implicated in the Dieselgate diesel emissions scandal are responsible for releasing excessive amounts of nitrogen oxides.

Diesel emissions scandal

The diesel emissions scandal started in 2015 with only the Volkswagen Group accused of using defeat devices in manipulating emissions during regulatory testing. US authorities sent the carmaker a notice after they found illegal software in Audi and VW diesel vehicles sold in the American market. The device hid real emissions so that the vehicle would be approved for sale.

The defeat device automatically lowers emissions once it detects that the vehicle is being tested. This will give the impression that the vehicle is emissions-compliant. However, once driven on real-world roads, the vehicle emits NOx at unlawful levels. Authorities said that Volkswagen cared more for profit than their customers’ safety.

The California Air Resources Board ordered VW to recall all affected vehicles. VW has spent billions on fines and fees since 2015. 

Aside from VW, other carmakers have also been implicated in the scandal, including luxury brand BMW. After being caught colluding with Mercedes-Benz/Daimler and Volkswagen to limit new technology for cleaner emissions, the German Federal Motor Transport Authority (KBA) discovered illegal emissions software installed in some of BMW’s diesel models. A BMW emissions claim was filed that same year.

VW, BMW, and all the other carmakers that used defeat devices misled their customers and should be held responsible for their actions. Affected drivers should file a diesel claim against their carmakers.

Should I file my diesel claim?

If you suspect that your BMW (or any diesel vehicle) is affected, visit to verify if you are eligible to receive compensation. Not all vehicles are affected, so it’s important to ensure your eligibility before working with an emissions expert. Then decide whether you’ll file an individual diesel claim or join a Group Litigation Order (GLO).