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Sulfur Dioxide - Emissions and Pollution 1995

Introduction

Effect of Sulfur Dioxide

Sulfur dioxide (SO2) is a colorless gas which has a pungent odor in high concentrations. It is produced through the combustion of fossil fuels such as coal and oil. It is also a byproduct of ore smelting and used in many other industrial processes.

Once released into the atmosphere, it is transformed into sulfur trioxide and later sulfuric acid and sulfate particles at a rate of one percent per hour.

Sulfur dioxide impairs human health. Due to its high solubility, it acts directly upon the mucous membranes of eyes, and of upper respiratory tract (c.f. Kühling 1986). In heavy concentrations or intense inhalation, it can effect the lower respiratory tract (c.f. BMUNR 1987). Asthmatics are at considerably higher risk than healthy persons (c.f. Nowak et al. 1994).

The effects of SO2 on plants are very complex. Direct damage to the leaves and needles occurs in the gaseous and aqueous forms. Indirect damage is done by sulfate inputs into the soil. These lead to a nutrient shortage and acid stress. There are multiple effects of SO2 on the forest. The consequences are well known, esp. the changes in the abiotic and biotic soil conditions. This leads to bodies of water acidification, for example. Moreover, SO2 causes damage to materials and buildings.

Limits

The gas can be measured effectively using a variety of methods. For years, it has been considered a prime component of air pollution from fuel combustion exhausts. Limits for sulfur dioxide air pollution load were set very early on. Attempts have been made to reduce the SO2 concentration in the air.

Already the 1964 Technical Instructions for Air (TA-Luft) contained pollution limits for long-term sulfur dioxide pollution load (yearly average) of 400 µg/m3 and a short-term pollution load level (97.5 %-summation of all half-hour values in one year) of 750 µg/m3.

In Germany, the currently valid pollution limits are those contained in the 1986 TA-Luft and the limits prescribed in EC Guideline 80/779/EEC of 1980, last amended by EC Guideline 89/427/EEC. These, as well as the Regulation 22 for implementation of the Federal Air Pollution Control Law were adopted as national law in 1993 (c.f. Tab. 1).

Pollution limits which take into account the vulnerability of ecosystems must be maintained if the long-term capacity of the natural balance is to be guaranteed.

Limits (critical levels, critical loads), compliance with which should avoid any changes in the structure and function of ecosystems, were set by UN-ECE in 1988. The Federal Republic of Germany was among the first to sign as well as one of the co-initiators of the agreement. It has ratified the resolutions pertaining to new strategies in the European clean air regime.

The EC Guideline, resp. the applicable Regulation 22 BImSchV require, that the sulfur dioxide content of the air must not exceed the 98 % value of 250 µg/m3, resp. 350 µg/m3 on more than three consecutive days (c.f. Tab. 1). Until 1991, this level had been exceeded nearly every year under low exchange weather conditions. However, since 1991 it has no longer been exceeded. In addition, these regulations contain special limits for the sulfur dioxide concentration in winter. These limits have been maintained constantly in previous years.

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Tab. 1: Limits, Standard Values and Recommendations for Pollution of Sulfur Dioxide and Floating Dust in the Air
Image: Umweltatlas Berlin

When pollution limits have been exceeded, such as those of TA-Luft or the 22 BImSchV measures may be taken against the facilities identified as the polluters. If the specific polluter cannot be identified then the responsible agency must create an air purity plan which will specify the new, stricter standards for permissible emissions to be applied when approving any future facilities. Accordingly, air purity plans were drawn up in 1981, 1986, and 1994 in which the respective air pollution levels and the measures to reduce them are presented (c.f. SenStadtUm 1994).

Polluter and Quantity of Sulfur Dioxide Emissions

In Berlin, the sulfur dioxide emissions come primarily from burning of coal and oil for heat and electricity generation. Sulfur dioxide is discharged into the atmosphere as a component of the exhaust gases. It is produced with proportions of up to 3.0 % of sulfur contained in fuel. Because of its combustible qualities, it is possible to derive exactly the sulfur dioxide emissions from the sulfur content of the fuel.

The first data on sulfur dioxide emissions were calculated for 1892 on the basis of the fuel consumption statistics. At that time the discharge level already lay at 43,700 tons per annum (t/a). The emissions increased continuously, with interruptions due to the wars, reaching 80,000 t/a in West Berlin alone by 1970. The SO2 emissions have sunk since 1970 (c.f. Map 03.01, SenStadtUm 1985).

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Fig. 1: Sulfur Dioxide Emissions from Individual Polluter Groups in Berlin 1951-1989 (for 1951-1985 West Berlin only, for 1989 West and East Berlin) (tons per year)
Image: Umweltatlas Berlin

Figure 1 shows a heavy decline in emissions in the western part of the city. When both halves of the city are compared in 1989, the very high emission level in the eastern part can be seen. Since then, the emissions, which have continued to decrease significantly, are no longer measured separately for each half of the city. The greater part of the 17,200 t total emissions in 1994 (63 % of which was from licensed facilities, 10,900 t) comes from power, heating power and heating plants. Second place, with 4,900 t was domestic heating with 29 %, followed by motor vehicle traffic (1,400 t) at a little more than 8 %.

The variously high emission quantities in both halves of the city are due to the great difference in the types of fuel used. Until 1989, licensed facilities as well as domestic heating in the eastern part of the city relied primarily on lignite although gas was also used. In contrast to the western part of the city, there was no limit on the sulfur content of fuels. That meant that significant quantities of lignite, from the Leipzig/Bornaer region, with very high sulfur content (up to 3.0 %) were used. In contrast, the lignite burned in the western part was subject to the lignite regulation of 15.01.1981 limiting sulfur content to 1 %. At this time, only lignite from Lower Lusatia (Niederlausitz) or the Rhineland with a sulfur content of about 0.6 % was burned with an additional reduction to 0.3 % through ash retention. Moreover, mainly light heating oil with a sulfur content of less than 0.3 % was burned for domestic heating. Since 1988 numerous heat generating stations have already been using flue gas desulfurization plants (c.f. Tab. 2).

Tab. 2: Commissioning of Desulfurization and Denitrification Plants in Berlin Heating Power Plants (HKW) and Power Plants (KW) (as of August 1996)
Tab. 2: Commissioning of Desulfurization and Denitrification Plants in Berlin Heating Power Plants (HKW) and Power Plants (KW) (as of August 1996)
Image: Umweltatlas Berlin

After reunification, the application of the brown coal (lignite) regulation was extended to the eastern part of the city. In addition, the closing of a number of factories also led to dramatic emission decreases. In 1996, the conversion of gas supply to natural gas was completed for the whole city. This meant that an increasing number of households could be converted from coal and oil heating to gas heating which produces no sulfur dioxide emissions.

Development of Sulfur Dioxide Pollutions

In 1968 and 1969, the Institute for Water, Soil, and Air Hygiene at the Federal Health Agency began continuous measurements of sulfur dioxide concentration at three monitoring sites in Berlin. In 1975, the former Department of Health and Environmental Protection began operation of the Berlin Air Quality Monitoring Network (BLUME). Sulfur dioxide pollution were measured throughout the western part of the city at 31 monitoring stations distributed along a 4 × 4 km grid.

Figures 2 shows a summary of the yearly average values from each available station since 1970.

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Fig. 2: Trends in the Yearly Average Values for Sulfur Dioxide 1970 -1995
Image: Umweltatlas Berlin

BGA- Averages = Averages from three Federal Health Agency monitoring stations in Steglitz, Jungfernheide and Dahlem.
BLUME- Averages = Averages from 6 BLUME-monitoring stations in the western city center.
City Center Average = Average of the monitoring stations in the city center.

Altogether, the sulfur dioxide concentration in Berlin declined more than 85 % between 1970 and 1995. This decline could be observed in several stages. There has been a very great decline between 1970 and 1974, from 1979 to 1983 and again since 1989. However, two stagnation phases could be observed between 1974 and 1979 and again between 1983 and 1989 (c.f. Fig. 2).

Each phase of pollution decline has its specific origin. In the beginning of the 70s, heating plants were increasingly converted from coal-burning to light heating oil. At the end of the decade, the sulfur content of light heating oil and lignite was reduced. In recent years, the introduction of flue gas desulfurization plants in power stations pursuant to the Grossfeuerungsanlagenverordnung (central furnace facility regulation) and the introduction of the lignite regulation to the eastern part of Berlin made its impact (c.f. Tab. 2). This enabled a further reduction in sulfur dioxide discharges. Finally, the collapse of the GDR and the resulting decommissioning of numerous factories led to a further significant reduction in emissions.

In addition, the continuing extension of district and gas heating as well as intensified efforts at insulation and energy conservation, e.g. through technically-improved heating facilities, has had an pollution-reducing effect. Development has not come to an end. With the heavy reductions in sulfur dioxide concentrations in the air, this pollutant will lose its function as a leading indicator for the degree of air pollution.

Effects of Long-term Pollution Load on the Forest Ecosystem

The filter effect created by the surface structure of forests leads to a high pollutant impact and accumulation. Multiple effects on forest ecosystems are caused by the pollutant gas sulfur dioxide and its solid by-product sulfate. The intense international forest damage research which has been done since the beginning of the 80s has yielded completely new knowledge in the field. This has resulted in a very critical approach to the definition of pollution limits.

Direct damage impact from previously high SO2 concentrations were particularly noticeable in Berlin (c.f. Map 03.07, SenStadtUmTech 1996a) through reduction in lichen growth and through needle damage. A special method was developed during the long-term investigations of the monitoring program in order to measure and access the macroscopically recognizable needle damage (c.f. Meyer and Kalhoff 1996). The damage profiles were summarized as damage types of which damage type 3 (needles with clearly distinguishable ribbon and spot-shaped chloroses and necroses) can certainly be attributed to SO2 damage. Figure 3 shows the development of this kind of damage since 1986: parallel to the decreasing SO2 load, the incidence of type 3 needle damage also declined. The positive correlation with the average SO2 concentration from 1986-94 confirms the connection. The decline in this type of needle damage in Berlin coincides with the findings of Korsch and Jäger (1993) which also show a significant reduction in needle necroses in the Bitterfeld region within recent years.

Fig. 3: Temporal Development of Needle Damage Type 3 in Three Test Areas in the Forests of the Western Part of Berlin and the Average SO2 Concentration in Grunewald. The Average of all Test Trees with a Particular Damage Type is Shown. For 1992 there are no Needle Damage Data Available.
Fig. 3: Temporal Development of Needle Damage Type 3 in Three Test Areas in the Forests of the Western Part of Berlin and the Average SO2 Concentration in Grunewald. The Average of all Test Trees with a Particular Damage Type is Shown. For 1992 there are no Needle Damage Data Available.
Image: following Meyer and Kalhoff 1996

Despite these low concentrations of SO2 in 1995, there continues to be acid load of the Berlin forests which has been caused about 75 % by SO2. The acid inputs have been reduced as a result of the extensive pollution reduction measures taken, but not to the same extent as the reduction of SO2 concentrations. This is due to the fact that the calcium inputs, which serve as an atmospheric buffer against acids, have been reduced (c.f. Fig. 4). In addition, the nitrogen oxide pollutions, which contribute to a third of all acid formation have scarcely declined (c.f. Map 03.03, SenStadtUmTech 1997). The result has been a slight increase in acid precipitation from 1991 to 1994.

Fig. 4: Temporal Development of Acid Inputs, Atmospherically Buffered Acids and Calcium Inputs in kmol Ion Equivalents (IE) per Hectare and Year in Fields within Grunewald
Fig. 4: Temporal Development of Acid Inputs, Atmospherically Buffered Acids and Calcium Inputs in kmol Ion Equivalents (IE) per Hectare and Year in Fields within Grunewald
Image: following Fischer 1996

These current acid input measurements still lie above the level of tolerable acid inputs for the Berlin forests, as defined by UN ECE “Critical Loads” for sustainable maintenance of the natural balance (c.f. Fig. 5).The value calculated shows what the forest soil’s long-term acid neutralization capacity is. The acid neutralization capacity is determined by the ability of the soil, through erosion, to replenish basic cations (Ca, Mg, K). The same function is performed by the basic cations in dust which can also provide relief. This relief is reduced through the significant decline in calcium inputs as already mentioned.

Fig. 5: Development of Actual along with Tolerable Acid Inputs According to the UN ECE Concept of Tolerable Inputs (Critical Loads) in Ion Equivalents pro Hectare and Year from 1987 to 1995 (Example Grunewald). Actual Acid Inputs: Calculated Input Values in the Forest Stand.
Fig. 5: Development of Actual along with Tolerable Acid Inputs According to the UN ECE Concept of Tolerable Inputs (Critical Loads) in Ion Equivalents pro Hectare and Year from 1987 to 1995 (Example Grunewald). Actual Acid Inputs: Calculated Input Values in the Forest Stand.
Image: Umweltatlas Berlin

There has been a decline in the pH value of rainwater (1984 – 94 from 4.7 to 3.9) (c.f. Pelz 1995) caused by the reduction in the atmospheric acid buffer (c.f. Fig. 6). The high acid level in rain and fog is also problematic for the forests. This can lead to increased acid damage to needle surfaces (pre-mature aging of the wax layer) and higher erosion of nutrients.

Fig. 6: Temporal Development of the pH Value in Precipitation in Berlin-Dahlem 1984 - 1995
Fig. 6: Temporal Development of the pH Value in Precipitation in Berlin-Dahlem 1984 - 1995
Image: Pelz 1995, Pelz 1996

The long-term acid inputs in the forest soil can be identified in the soil solution, which is a sensitive indicator of the soil-chemical condition. The soil solution from the forest long-term observation areas in Grunewald exhibit a high sulfate (SO4) concentration. With 85 % of the total anions, there is also a decisive effect on the ion-levels in the soil solution (c.f. Schlenther et al. 1995). This makes the high SO4-inputs of the past an important factor for the composition of the soil. Due to the continuing buffering of the sulfate-induced acidifications, increasing amounts of aluminum ions are released. These are toxic for roots. Only the pollution-effected calcium reserves in the soil prevent root damage. However, current acid inputs cause the gradual deterioration of these reserves. The “Critical Loads” concept which aims at long term soil quality, does not take this deteriorating reserve into account and therefore treats the current acid inputs from the standpoint of sustainability of the forest soil as intolerable.