11. June 2024
ALLERGY-FRIENDLY AND CLIMATE-CONSCIOUS CITY OF BERLIN – A PROJECT FOR THE FUTURE OF GERMANY

Berlin, 05 June 2024 – More than 30 percent of all people in Germany suffer from allergies. Every tenth sick leave in Germany can be attributed to an allergy. The avoidable costs of reduced production due to untreated allergies are estimated at around 100 billion euros across Europe. According to estimates, one in two Europeans will be suffering from an allergy by 2050. [1]  

The impact of allergic diseases is severe. In Germany alone, 30,000 young people discontinue their education due to allergies. Schoolchildren with untreated hay fever have a 40 percent chance of dropping a whole grade in school during the pollen season. Allergies are the most common chronic disease in our society and also the longest lasting. People are often affected from childhood to old age. Children whose parents are also affected by an allergy have a particularly high risk of developing allergic diseases: if one parent suffers from an allergy, the child’s risk of developing an allergy is 40 percent. If both parents have the same allergy, the child’s risk even increases to 60 to 80 percent.

Future pilot project – learning about allergies in nurseries and schools

“It is very important to me as an ambassador for the ECARF Foundation to support Berlin on its way to becoming an allergy-friendly capital,” says Astrid-Sabine Busse, former Senator of Education for Berlin, head of the primary school in Köllnische Heide for around 30 years and ECARF ambassador since 2024. “We are working tirelessly on solutions to provide children and young people, as well as teachers and educators in nurseries and schools, with good information about allergies. There should no longer be any children who perform less well at school because of untreated hay fever, who cannot take part in sports lessons because of untreated asthma or who are excluded from school trips because of a food allergy,” Busse continues.

In Germany alone, up to 40 percent of schoolchildren suffer from an allergy. Allergic rhinitis, asthma, neurodermatitis and food allergies are the most common, resulting in considerable restrictions in everyday life. With around 27 percent of children being chronically ill, Berlin is slightly above the national average of 26 percent, according to a study. Berlin’s children and teens most frequently suffer from neurodermatitis, hay fever, asthma and inflammatory bowel diseases. [2]  

The aim of the ECARF Foundation is firstly to bring educational and teaching materials to Berlin schools and thereby establish knowledge about allergies as well as emergency situations and first aid measures in a playful way. And to ensure that children with allergies can enjoy a carefree life at school and daycare centres in the future.

Another important topic is anaphylactic shock, for example due to untreated food allergies. It is estimated that around 15 percent of all food allergy reactions or anaphylaxes occur at school. The life-saving measure for allergic shock is the use of adrenaline, available in an auto-injector for children and adults. “We are calling for an adrenaline emergency kit in public places and facilities, such as swimming pools or schools, for example,” Astrid Busse emphasises.  The first prototypes, such as the “ECARF Allergy Toolbox” with training material for day-care centres and schools and the “ECARF Allergy Kit” with adrenaline exercise pens for children and adults, have already been developed. “A position paper for a national strategy on the availability of adrenaline auto-injectors, similar to the distribution of early defibrillators, is urgently needed. We are hoping for support from politicians,” continues the ECARF ambassador.

A nationwide establishment of this life-saving emergency measure for non-professional responders in the event of an anaphylactic shock emergency could save lives in the future.

What allergy-friendly urban planting could look like

The impact of air pollutants such as ozone and particulate matter associated with climate change has an effect on the spread and allergenicity of pollen and thus on the frequency of sensitisation and allergies. In large cities, therefore, significantly more people suffer from hay fever and asthma caused by tree and grass pollen, dust mite and cat allergies than in smaller towns or villages.

“The allergenic potential must be given much greater consideration in urban greening,” demands Karl-Christian Bergmann, lung specialist and clinical study director at ECARF. From a health and economic point of view, it is important to avoid planting trees that cause allergic reactions to pollen. “It makes perfect sense to have lots of greenery and a wide variety of tree species in cities. However, heavy pollen emitters such as birch trees must finally be avoided,” Bergmann continues. Assuming that around 15 to 18 percent of the population in Berlin suffer from a pollen allergy, this would affect around 576,000 to 693,000 people in this city alone. Although it cannot be assumed that avoiding the planting of birch trees, for example, will completely prevent the occurrence of birch pollen in a city, its absence will lead to a lower pollen count in the air and thus to fewer complaints.

New sensitisation should also be reduced by inhibiting the spread of new allergenic species in the city, for example ragweed and tree of heaven. In general, insect-pollinated species should be favoured over wind-pollinated varieties when planting. On the one hand, it is important not to expand the already known and widespread sources of allergenic pollen (e.g. from birch trees) and, on the other hand, to avoid new risks for pollen allergy sufferers, such as the planting of olive trees. As a matter of priority, species such as birch and hazel should not be replanted. Hornbeam, ash, plane tree, oak and willow should no longer be shortlisted for urban greening wherever possible. Maple, horse chestnut, rowan, magnolia, spruce, elm and lime trees, on the other hand, as well as fruit trees such as cherry, pear, apple and plum, are harmless. The urban planning of the future should take allergological aspects into account. [3]

In Bergmann’s opinion, Berlin needs a pollen count forecast that is tailored to the city and its surroundings; the German Pollen Information Service (PID) foundation could take on this task with immediate effect. [4]

Healthy city Berlin: Positive urban development for a capital city worth living in

The Initiative Hauptstadt Berlin (Capital City Berlin Initiative) is committed to the positive design and further development of Berlin. Its goal of making Berlin a liveable and sustainable capital city has many facets. The focus of the initiative is on politics, business, culture and social issues. The health of the more than 3.8 million inhabitants and over 12 million tourists every year also plays a very important role in this context. “The project “Allergy-Friendly and Climate-Conscious City of Berlin” is to be welcomed and improves the quality of life for many of those affected. We are looking forward to a positive development for the city of Berlin, especially through the exchange of opinions, experiences and knowledge,” emphasises Jane Martens, Chairwoman of the Initiative Hauptstadt Berlin. “This project promotes a healthy future in the capital as a role model for the whole of Germany,” continues Martens.

healthy city berlin: healthy urban development with a future

Allergies are on the rise and can play a role in every aspect of life. In buildings or rooms, but also in nature and during sport: In view of the upcoming European Football Championship UEFA EURO 2024, many footballers from all over Europe are expected in Berlin. It is estimated that around 2.5 million football fans, including 1.9 million visitors from around 120 countries, will be visiting our city. “This major event is a very good example of how important it is to provide allergy-friendly solutions for the citizens of Berlin and all visitors in the future. And it is a great first step towards making our city more allergy-friendly and climate-friendly going forward. This also means: more health for everyone,” Senator for Internal Affairs and Sport, Iris Spranger, emphasises in her welcoming address.

However, it is also important to know the extent to which allergy research supports this: With mobile research “chambers”, allergy researchers can now go wherever their research is needed. That is quite an achievement! ECARF Institute GmbH, the wholly owned subsidiary of the ECARF Foundation, operates one such “research chamber”. The so-called ECARF Allergen Exposure Chamber is located on the premises of the Charité university hospital in Berlin Mitte: a milestone in the development of modern clinical allergy studies.

What can we do together to transition Berlin to an allergy-friendly and climate-friendly city?

“Together is the keyword here,” says Professor Torsten Zuberbier, Chairman of the ECARF Foundation. “A good solution, for example, would be not to exclude a child with a nut allergy from the children’s party, but to think about baking a nut-free cake together. And by working together, industry, retail and service providers, such as restaurants and hotels, could also look for allergy-friendly solutions,” Zuberbier continues. The ECARF Seal of Quality for allergy-friendly products and services can provide useful support in this regard. For each individual segment, criteria are defined together with stakeholders, science and industry that make the products better, quality-controlled, but not more expensive. “The good thing is that allergy-friendly tested products are good for everyone, whether you have an allergy or not. A good example is the ECARF-certified air purifiers, which not only filter pollen but also particulate matter,” Professor Zuberbier points out.

There are now products available for many areas of life that offer effective protection against allergens. ECARF-supported apps are also available: “Husteblume” helps respiratory allergy sufferers to adjust their medication in good time. The “Checkwise app” helps people with food or contact allergies to detect “their” allergens in good time thanks to modern photo technology on packaging. [5, 6] Last but not least, the focus is also on building interiors, and construction projects are certified together with the “Allergy Friendly Building Alliance” organisation. [7] Here, too, the construction costs do not increase, but the interior space is improved. For example, there are now also ECARF-certified wall paints without preservatives, which benefit people especially in living and sleeping areas.

Examples of other ECARF initiatives

Two allergy-friendly apple varieties have been developed over several years of research. In collaboration with the Züchtungsinitiative Niederelbe (ZIN), scientists from the Charité University Hospital in Berlin, ECARF Institute GmbH, Osnabrück University of Applied Sciences and the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have developed two new apple varieties with an extremely low allergen content and tested them on test subjects using oral provocation in a standardised procedure. Both varieties, which do not yet have a trade name, could be eaten by apple allergy sufferers without any problems. The two ECARF-tested apple varieties will bring significant relief to over seven million people in Germany. [8, 9,10]

The ISS VOLL GESUND (IVG) initiative, which is active throughout Europe, has set itself the goal of raising awareness of healthy and allergy-friendly nutrition together with the ECARF Foundation. For more awareness among the population and a more conscious approach to the topics of nutrition and allergies. With the ECARF-certified and therefore allergy-friendly “goodbrot” bread, the initiative is now close to market launch. [11]

“However, the biggest initiative is to tackle the challenges together across society as a whole,” Zuberbier emphasises. In addition to the ECARF-certified allergy-friendly communities, municipalities and holiday regions, such as the island of Borkum, we are now going one step further with the “Allergy-Friendly and Climate-Friendly City of Berlin” initiative. Only together with the people and politicians of this city can we achieve the goal of becoming the first allergy-friendly city. And thus lead the way as a role model for Germany.”

[1] https://www.rki.de/DE/Content/Gesundheitsmonitoring/Studien/Studien_node.html#doc2379576bodyText2

[2] https://www.rki.de/DE/Content/Gesundheitsmonitoring/Studien/Kiggs/kiggs_node.html

[3] The first version of this article was published in 2012: Bergmann KC, Zuberbier T, Augustin J et al. (2012): Climate change and pollen allergy: Cities and municipalities should take pollen allergy sufferers into consideration when planting in public spaces. In: Allergo Journal 21(2): 103-108. An updated version is published here with the kind permission of the publisher SpringerMedizin.

[4] https://www.pollenstiftung.de/pollenvorhersage/wochenprognose.html

[5] https://checkwise.de/app/

[6] https://www.tk.de/techniker/magazin/digitale-gesundheit/apps/husteblume-allergie-app-2025388?tkcm=ab

[7] https://www.afba.de/projekte/

[8] Bergmann KC, Zuberbier J, Zuberbier T, Zapp J, Hennebrüder W (2020) Apple Allergy – Development of Tolerance Through Regular Consumption of Low-Allergen Apples. An Observational Study. Erwerbs-Obstbau 62:267–273

[9] Becker S, Becker S, Chebib S, Schwab W, Dierend W, Zuberbier T, Bergmann KC. Testing Apples for Allergenicity Erwerbs-Obstbau 2021; 63: 409-415

[10] Romer E, Chebib S, Bergmann KC, Plate K, Becker S, Ludwig C, Meng C, Fischer T, Dierend W, Schwab W. Tiered approach for the identification of Mal d 1 reduced, well tolerated apple genotypes. Sci Rep. 2020 Jun 4;10(1):9144

[11] iss-voll-gesund.org

Background information

About ECARF Foundation

The ECARF Foundation has been certifying products and services with the ECARF Seal of Quality, the only Europe-wide certificate for allergy-friendly products and services, on the basis of scientific quality criteria since 2006. Furthermore, the foundation specifically supports allergological research at a European level as well as initiatives to improve the medical treatment of allergic diseases and establishes educational campaigns on the subject of allergies for children, young people, teachers and educators. ecarf.org

About ECARF-Institute GmbH

ECARF Institute GmbH is a wholly owned subsidiary of the ECARF Foundation and is tasked with implementing the Foundation’s objectives. It operates the allergen exposure chamber, conducts scientific studies and tests products and services for allergy-friendliness for certification with the ECARF Seal of Quality. ecarf-institute.org

 

Stefanie Link – Head of Communication

Robert-Koch-Platz 7 / 10115 Berlin / M.: +49 (0)151 22 78 08 11 /  Stefanie.Link@ecarf.org