Political fallout from smog alert continues to smart in West Germany

West Germany's worst smog alert has lifted with the temperature -- but the political fallout remains. The Ruhr's Stage 3 smog alarm that stopped all private automobile traffic and closed schools and some factories on Friday was reduced to a Stage 1 alert on Sunday and Monday.

Above-freezing weather has got the air moving again over West Germany's industrial heartland, and the smoke and car fumes can now be wafted elsewhere instead of accumulating over Dortmund, Essen, and Duisburg.

But an inversion of mutual recriminations remains.

With elections coming up in March in the North Rhine-Westphalian state, which includes the Ruhr and one-third of the West German population, everyone is eager to blame everyone else for the weekend's unprecedented shutdown of the economy.

The conservatives, in power federally, accuse the Social Democrats in North Rhine-Westphalia of exaggeration and of panic-mongering -- and also of failing to build more nuclear power plants to replace fossil-fuel plants.

The Greens accuse all three established parties (and ``industry society'' in general) of not doing enough to clean up the environment or move from large-scale to small-scale production.

The Social Democrats retort that if other regions were as conscientious about their air as North Rhine-Westphalia, they would not have been alone in calling the smog alarm over the weekend.

The Social Democrats also charge the federal conservative coalition with having dithered in introducing stricter auto emission regulations.

The facts of the case are that North Rhine-Westphalia tightened regulations last Thursday (in conformity with generally unimplemented recommendations by the states in conference) to define the critical Stage 3 air pollution as 1.7 milligrams of sulfur dioxide per cubic meter.

That point was reached Friday in the western Ruhr, and police fanned out for the first time in West German history to stop private automobiles and tell polluting industry to shut down for 24 hours.

With the end of the two-week cold spell Sunday/Monday, the Ruhr has reverted to Stage 1, with residents being asked only to reduce their driving to a minimum.

The intermediate Stage 2 was in force briefly between Stages 1 and 3. A Stage 2 alert halts private traffic in city centers between l0 a.m. and noon and again between 3 and 8 p.m.

Ruhr hospitals reported no increase in admissions related to pollution.

Industrial losses in production are estimated to run to millions of deutsche marks.

In the state of Hesse the cities of Giessen and Kassel went on Stage 1 smog alert over the weekend.

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