The flames are supposed to drive away winter, welcome spring, celebrate the victory of light over darkness: the Easter fire is given great importance, especially in Christianity. According to tradition, it symbolizes the resurrection of Jesus Christ as the light of the world. But the custom also has a reputation for polluting the air.


The Easter fires increase the level of fine dust in the air.


That’s true, but according to experts the rash is minor and the stress is only temporarily increased.


Easter fires – like traditional campfires – have negative impacts on people and the environment. The fine dust that is created when burning gets into the air and is harmful to health. “The smaller the particles are, the deeper they can penetrate into the body, into the lungs and into the bloodstream,” says Ute Dauert from the Federal Environment Agency. They can damage the cardiovascular system.

Nevertheless, there are no moves by the federal government to ban the custom. The reason: The fine dust limit of 50 micrograms per cubic meter may not be exceeded more than 35 times a year in a region. Accordingly, Easter fires can cause the limit values ​​to be temporarily and significantly exceeded. However, in this case the increased fine dust pollution is limited to a short period of the year.

The North Rhine-Westphalia regional association of the Federal Environment and Nature Conservation Germany (BUND) emphasizes that the Easter fires increase the concentration locally. However, this also depends on the weather conditions. In windy and rainy weather the load is lower.

The expert from the Federal Environment Agency also agrees: “Easter fires only contribute to pollution locally and in the short term,” says Dauert. There are larger, permanently emitting sources such as traffic or industry that should be contained.

Easter fires compared to road traffic

According to the Federal Environment Agency, 90,200 tons of fine dust with a diameter of less than 2.5 micrometers were emitted in Germany in the pre-Corona year of 2019. This means that 18,350 tons were created through abrasion and exhaust from road traffic. New Year’s Eve fireworks released 1,230 tons within a few hours. During the Easter fires there were around 2,400 tons on some days. The data on common campfires is less precise than that for traffic and fireworks emissions.

There are different types of natural and man-made particulate matter. Depending on its size, it is classified into four categories: “When wood is burned, particles are created that are somewhat larger in comparison,” says Dauert. These particles belong to the size of less than 10 micrometers, which also includes house dust and pollen. Some bacteria fall into the next smaller category of less than 2.5 micrometers. There is also the PM1 category. This so-called ultrafine dust is smaller than one micrometer. The smallest form is diesel soot, which is less than a hundredth of a millimeter in size.

Some particulate matter has an impact on glaciers

Particularly fine dust also has an impact on the ice at the north and south poles. Tiny, mostly black fine dust particles can settle on glaciers and ice layers and darken them. According to BUND information, they absorb sunlight there and thus ensure that the ice melts more quickly.

However, the fine dust particles produced by campfire heat are not fine enough to land at the poles. They would have to be “very small to cover such a long distance,” says Dauert. Larger particles sink faster. “The particles at the poles are more soot particles,” explains Dauert. Diesel soot, which is emitted by internal combustion engines, is one of the smallest and therefore most harmful forms of particulate matter.

Watch out for nesting animals

Aside from air pollution, there is another danger with the Easter tradition: “Another problem is that the fires are usually built very early – often a week before,” says Dauert. Spring in particular is also a time when birds nest or rabbits hide in piles. “That’s why you should rearrange the wood again shortly before lighting.”