|2||Breda, North Brabant|
|3||Brielle, South Holland|
|4||Muiden, North Holland|
|5||Oss, North Brabant|
|6||Berkel en Rodenrijs, South Holland|
|7||Den Haag, South Holland|
|8||Amsterdam, North Holland|
|9||Capelle aan den IJssel, South Holland|
|10||Sas van Gent, Zeeland|
(local time)SEE WORLD AQI RANKING
|1||Huijbergen, North Brabant|
|2||Oostvoorne, South Holland|
|3||Jagershoef, North Brabant|
|6||Blaarthem, North Brabant|
|9||Hoek v. Holland, South Holland|
|10||Wieringerwerf, North Holland|
(local time)SEE WORLD AQI RANKING
The Netherlands or sometimes informally known as Holland is a country located in Western Europe. The capital city is Amsterdam which is one of the four largest in the country and the most populous. In 2020 the estimated population was almost 17.5 million people.
In 2019, the air quality in Amsterdam was classified as being “Good” with a PM2.5 concentration of 10.7 µg/m³, as published by the renowned Swiss company IQAir.com. For 4 months during that year, the air quality was within the target figure recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO). Their suggested target is 10 µg/m³ or lower. A further 5 months saw the air quality as “Good” with figures between 10 and 12 µg/m³. The remaining 3 months returned a “Moderate “level with figures between 12.1 and 35.4 µg/m³. Looking back over previous years since data has been available in 2017 the figure stood at 12.2 µg/m³ followed by 11.5 µg/m³ in 2018 so gradually showing a slight improvement year after year. Overall the 2019 ranking place the Netherlands at 75 out of a total of 98 countries.
Air pollution is an invisible problem. Even with blue skies and bright sunshine, the air can still be polluted. The pollutants are so small that you cannot see them. Air pollution depends on many factors. The weather has an influence: is the sun shining, windy or foggy? But traffic also plays a role if there is a traffic jam, or there are many trucks or Electric Vehicles.
In 2014, twelve thousand people died prematurely from air pollution and it has been suggested that the Dutch live an average of thirteen months shorter due to air pollution.
Air pollution is less harmful than smoking, comparable to the health damage caused by obesity and greater than the health damage caused by too much alcohol consumption.
There are many different substances suspended in the air, both small particles and gases. Most of it is bad for our health. Especially substances that are released during combustion in diesel engines. These include ultra-fine particles and soot. Soot, or Black carbon (BC) as it is sometimes known, is one of the most harmful components of (ultra) fine dust. Soot is produced during the incomplete combustion of fuels and consists mainly of carbon.
Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) is released during combustion, especially at high temperatures, such as in a car engine. Nitrogen dioxide is very unhealthy and tens of thousands of Dutch people become seriously ill from nitrogen dioxide. Thousands of people die earlier from all that nitrogen dioxide in the air. Because nitrogen dioxide is easier to measure than soot or particulate matter, the harmfulness of air pollution from traffic is often indicated by the amount of nitrogen dioxide in the air. Nitrogen dioxide is not only harmful to humans and animals, it also causes acidification in nature.
Particulate matter (PM) consists of many different solids that are suspended in the air. The abbreviation PM stands for particulate matter. The number after it (for example PM10) is the maximum diameter of the particles in micrometres. The smaller the number, the smaller the particle. The most common particulate matter is PM10: these are all particles with a diameter smaller than 10 micrometres. We call particles smaller than 2.5 micrometres ultra-fine particles or PM2.5. Large particles are stopped by the body’s natural defence system before they reach the lungs. Smaller particles of ultrafine particles can get into your lungs and even into your bloodstream, where they cause inflammation and respiratory problems.
The European Union (EU) monitors air quality. Since 2005 there have been EU standards for particulate matter (PM) and in 2010, guidelines for nitrogen dioxide (NO2) were also added. The Netherlands still exceeds the standards for particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide in many places because standards are not always properly enforced. Nor are these standards strict enough to protect our health. They are guidelines. Because even if the air quality remains below the official standard, the air is often not healthy. That is why we strive for the guidelines of the World Health Organisation (WHO). Research has shown that much stricter regulations are needed to get healthy air. Only when there are no pollutants suspended in the air is when it can be called clean.
There are standards suggested by the European Union with regards to levels of PM10 and nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and other gases but for the worst pollutant which is the microscopic PM2.5, there are no recommended levels or limits. However, the World Health Organisation suggests a level of less than 10 µg/m³ as its target figure. The WHO recommends much lower concentrations of particulate matter for a healthy living environment. They recommend 20 µg/m³ for PM10 and 10 µg/m³ for PM2.5. That is half the figures used as an EU standard. So even if the EU standards are met, the air in the Netherlands is not yet healthy in many locations.
The standards for air pollution set by the European Union are partly based on economic feasibility, so they are not as strict and do not protect the population against disease. The WHO, therefore, recommends that the concentration of air pollution be lowered much further for health reasons. A figure of up to 2.5 times lower than EU standards has been suggested but this is still in the planning stage and not yet been put into practice.
The air is unhealthy almost everywhere in the Netherlands. Only in Vlieland and Schiermonnikoog can you still breathe healthy air. The biggest cause is traffic. If you breathe in too much nitrogen dioxide or particulate matter in those polluted places you can become short of breath, or provoke an asthma attack. Tests have shown that the quality of air does not meet the EU standards, especially in the large cities and in the vicinity of motorways and large road junctions.
Towards the end of 2020, the most polluted city in the Netherlands was Culemborg in Gelderland with a US AQI reading of 63. Conversely, the city of Hedel, also in Gelderland showed the highest air quality with a US AQI figure of 25. These figures reflect the annual average readings.
Amsterdam was seen to have the largest number of polluted streets than any of the other four large cities (Rotterdam, The Hague and Maastricht) in the comparison. It was discovered that as many as 4 out of 10 streets that were subject of the study had very high levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2). Utrecht was the only large Dutch city whose air quality met the required EU standards.
In the Netherlands, there is a kind of air pollution blanket over the country. For example, you are better off in the north of the country than in densely populated Amsterdam where the relative freedom from traffic will be the main contributor to clean air. The closer to nature you are often means less air pollution and less risk of health damage as suggested by the experts. But not always: If you live in the countryside near intensive livestock farming, you actually inhale more particulate matter and ammonia than if you were living in a city.
In the Netherlands, air quality is measured at approximately 100 locations. This happens 24 hours a day. The measurements are carried out by, among others, the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM), the GGD Amsterdam and DCMR Rotterdam (the environmental service). In addition to the 24/7 measurements, there are also non-continuous mobile measuring points. The data from these measuring points are included in the online Atlas Living Environment.
Air quality in the Netherlands has improved significantly over the past three decades. However, there is no lower limit at which there is no risk to health. Even at low concentrations of air pollution, effects have still been calculated.
As of 1st January 2020, national rules were applied to municipalities with environmental zones. In these zones, municipalities were allowed to ban older diesel cars, trucks and buses that cause a lot of air pollution. Prior to this, municipalities had their own rules for environmental zones but from this date until 29th October they will have to adapt to the new national legislation. The emission class of your diesel car, truck or bus determines whether you are allowed to drive into an environmental zone. Diesel cars with emission class 3 are only allowed to enter a yellow environmental zone. These cars are a maximum of 20 years old in 2020. Diesel vehicles with emission class 4 and higher are allowed to enter a green zone. These cars, trucks or buses will be a maximum of 15 years old by 2020.
From 2025, all new public transport buses will operate without producing any emissions. The buses will then run electrically or on hydrogen and produce considerably less air pollution. The energy must be fully sustainably generated from solar panels or wind turbines. The government, all provinces and transporters signed an agreement for this on 15th April 2016.
Parking charges are to be reviewed and it is hoped that owners of cars that produce less pollution should pay smaller parking fees.
Living in polluted air is bad for your health. Air pollution is the third cause of death in the Netherlands, after smoking and obesity. Living, working or going to school in polluted air has a similar effect to smoking cigarettes. It is the cause of lung disease, cardiovascular disease and cancer. Vulnerable groups such as children and the elderly are extra sensitive to the effects of polluted air. For example, air pollution has adverse effects on pregnant women and the birth weight of their babies. Children who live or go to school near busy roads are more likely to have respiratory problems and are 5 times more likely to have weak lungs. Common complaints are asthma and shortness of breath.
The risk is a combination of being exposed to something and the degree to which a substance is toxic. If there is no or very low exposure, the chance that you will suffer from it is also very low.
While air pollution mainly refers to respiratory problems, just recently air pollution has also been associated with various brain problems. The idea is that ultra-fine particles such as PM2.5 can reach the brain via the olfactory nerve and that they can have a negative impact. So far these are indications, not a cause-effect relationship but research is still ongoing. Some studies have been conducted into the effects of particulate matter PM2.5 on our psyche. Research shows that the brains of unborn children are sensitive to particulate matter and they later have an increased risk of psychological disorders such as ADHD and addiction sensitivity.
Some health complaints and diseases have already been conclusively proven that air pollution plays a role in this. It is not only about respiratory problems and lung cancer, but also about cardiovascular diseases. The microscopic particles of PM2.5 in particular end up very deep in the bronchial tubes in the alveoli and from there enter the bloodstream and can therefore lead to cardiovascular disease.
Adverse health consequences due to air pollution can occur as a result of short- or long-term exposure. It can also be dependent on the type and concentration of the specific pollutant. The pollutants with the strongest evidence of health effects are particulate matter (PM), ozone (O3), nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and sulphur dioxide (SO2).
Although most airborne pollutants are “produced” locally, it is not always the case. Depending on atmospheric conditions and the direction of prevailing winds, pollutants can be carried 1000’s of kilometres across many countries. For example, windblown dust from the deserts of Africa, Mongolia, Central Asia and China can carry large concentrations of dust, particulate matter, fungal spores and bacteria that impact health and air quality in other areas.
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