Air quality in Netherlands

Air quality index (AQI) and PM2.5 air pollution in Netherlands

Last update at (local time)


Real-time Netherlands
Most polluted city ranking

#cityUS AQI
1 Wijk aan Zee, North Holland


2 Maastricht, Limburg


3 Groningen, Groningen


4 Rotterdam, South Holland


5 Utrecht City, Utrecht


6 Breda, North Brabant


7 Amsterdam, North Holland


8 Zaandam, North Holland


9 The Hague, South Holland


(local time)



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Real-time Netherlands
Cleanest city ranking

#cityUS AQI
1 The Hague, South Holland


2 Zaandam, North Holland


3 Amsterdam, North Holland


4 Breda, North Brabant


5 Rotterdam, South Holland


6 Utrecht City, Utrecht


7 Groningen, Groningen


8 Maastricht, Limburg


9 Wijk aan Zee, North Holland


(local time)


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What is the air quality index for the Netherlands?

The Netherlands or sometimes informally known as Holland is a country located inWestern Europe. The capital city is Amsterdam which is one of the four largestin the country and the most populous. In 2020 the estimated population wasalmost 17.5 million people.

In 2019, the air quality in Amsterdam was classified as being “Good” with a PM2.5concentration of 10.7 µg/m³, as published by the renownedSwiss company For 4 months during that year, the air quality was within the target figurerecommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO). Their suggested target is10 µg/m³ or lower. A further 5 months saw the air quality as “Good” withfigures 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 previousyears since data has been available in 2017 the figure stood at 12.2 µg/m³followed by 11.5 µg/m³ in 2018 so gradually showing a slight improvement yearafter year. Overall the 2019 ranking place the Netherlands at 75 out of a total of 98 countries.

How bad is air pollution in the Netherlands?

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 seethem. Air pollution depends on many factors. The weather has an influence: isthe sun shining, windy or foggy? But traffic also plays a role if there is atraffic jam, or there are many trucks or Electric Vehicles.

In 2014, twelve thousand people died prematurely from air pollution and it hasbeen 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 causedby obesity and greater than the health damage caused by too much alcohol consumption.

What are the main causes of air pollution in the Netherlands?

There are many different substances suspended in the air, both small particles andgases. Most of it is bad for our health. Especially substances that arereleased during combustion in diesel engines. These include ultra-fineparticles and soot. Soot, or Black carbon (BC) as it is sometimes known, is oneof the most harmful components of (ultra) fine dust. Soot is produced duringthe incomplete combustion of fuels and consists mainly of carbon.

Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) is released during combustion, especially at hightemperatures, such as in a car engine. Nitrogen dioxide is very unhealthy andtens 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 amountof nitrogen dioxide in the air. Nitrogen dioxide is not only harmful to humansand animals, it also causes acidification in nature.

What are the PM10 and PM2.5 pollutants?

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 (forexample PM10) is the maximum diameter of the particles in micrometres. Thesmaller the number, the smaller the particle. The most common particulatematter 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 theyreach the lungs. Smaller particles of ultrafine particles can get into yourlungs and even into your bloodstream, where they cause inflammation and respiratory problems.

What can be done to improve the air quality in the Netherlands?

The European Union (EU) monitors air quality. Since 2005 there have been EUstandards for particulate matter (PM) and in 2010, guidelines for nitrogendioxide (NO2) were also added. The Netherlands still exceeds thestandards for particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide in many places because standardsare not always properly enforced. Nor are these standards strict enough toprotect our health. They are guidelines. Because even if the air qualityremains below the official standard, the air is often not healthy. That is whywe strive for the guidelines of the World Health Organisation (WHO). Researchhas shown that much stricter regulations are needed to get healthy air. Onlywhen 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 PM10and nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and other gases but for the worstpollutant which is the microscopic PM2.5, there are no recommended levels orlimits. However, the World Health Organisation suggests a level of less than 10µg/m³ as its target figure. The WHO recommends much lower concentrations of particulate matter for a healthy livingenvironment. They recommend 20 µg/m³ for PM10 and 10 µg/m³ for PM2.5. That ishalf 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 oneconomic feasibility, so they are not as strict and do not protect thepopulation against disease. The WHO, therefore, recommends that theconcentration of air pollution be lowered much further for health reasons. Afigure of up to 2.5 times lower than EU standards has been suggested but thisis still in the planning stage and not yet been put into practice.

Which city in the Netherlands has the highest levels of air pollution?

The air is unhealthy almost everywhere in the Netherlands. Only in Vlieland andSchiermonnikoog can you still breathe healthy air. The biggest cause istraffic. If you breathe in too much nitrogen dioxide or particulate matter inthose polluted places you can become short of breath, or provoke an asthmaattack. Tests have shown that the quality of air does not meet the EUstandards, 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 inGelderland with a US AQI reading of 63. Conversely, the city of Hedel, also inGelderland showed the highest air quality with a US AQI figure of 25. Thesefigures reflect the annual average readings.

Amsterdam was seen to have the largest number of polluted streets than any of the otherfour large cities (Rotterdam, The Hague and Maastricht) in the comparison. Itwas discovered that as many as 4 out of 10 streets that were subject of the studyhad very high levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2). Utrecht was the onlylarge Dutch city whose air quality met the required EU standards.

What is the level of air pollution in the Netherlands away from the large cities?

In the Netherlands, there is a kind of air pollution blanket over the country. Forexample, you are better off in the north of the country than in denselypopulated Amsterdam where the relative freedom from traffic will be the maincontributor to clean air. The closer to nature you are often means less airpollution and less risk of health damage as suggested by the experts. But notalways: If you live in the countryside near intensive livestock farming, youactually inhale more particulate matter and ammonia than if you were living in a city.

What does the future hold with regards to air quality in the Netherlands?

In the Netherlands, air quality is measured at approximately 100 locations. Thishappens 24 hours a day. The measurements are carried out by, among others, theNational Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM), the GGDAmsterdam and DCMR Rotterdam (the environmental service). In addition to the24/7 measurements, there are also non-continuous mobile measuring points. Thedata from these measuring points are included in the online Atlas Living Environment.

Air quality in the Netherlands has improved significantly over the past threedecades. 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 municipalitieswith environmental zones. In these zones, municipalities were allowed to banolder diesel cars, trucks and buses that cause a lot of air pollution. Prior tothis, municipalities had their own rules for environmental zones but from thisdate until 29th October they will have to adapt to the new nationallegislation. The emission class of your diesel car, truck or bus determineswhether you are allowed to drive into an environmental zone. Diesel cars withemission class 3 are only allowed to enter a yellow environmental zone. Thesecars are a maximum of 20 years old in 2020. Diesel vehicles with emission class4 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 considerablyless air pollution. The energy must be fully sustainably generated from solarpanels or wind turbines. The government, all provinces and transporters signedan agreement for this on 15th April 2016.

Parking charges are to be reviewed and it is hoped that owners of cars that produceless pollution should pay smaller parking fees.

What are the effects on human health from the Netherlands’ polluted air?

Living in polluted air is bad for your health. Air pollution is the third cause ofdeath in the Netherlands, after smoking and obesity. Living, working or goingto school in polluted air has a similar effect to smoking cigarettes. It is thecause of lung disease, cardiovascular disease and cancer. Vulnerable groupssuch as children and the elderly are extra sensitive to the effects of pollutedair. For example, air pollution has adverse effects on pregnant women and thebirth weight of their babies. Children who live or go to school near busy roadsare more likely to have respiratory problems and are 5 times more likely tohave 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 orvery 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 withvarious brain problems. The idea is that ultra-fine particles such as PM2.5 canreach the brain via the olfactory nerve and that they can have a negativeimpact. So far these are indications, not a cause-effect relationship butresearch is still ongoing. Some studies have been conducted into the effects ofparticulate matter PM2.5 on our psyche. Research shows that the brains ofunborn children are sensitive to particulate matter and they later have anincreased 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 isnot only about respiratory problems and lung cancer, but also aboutcardiovascular diseases. The microscopic particles of PM2.5 in particular endup very deep in the bronchial tubes in the alveoli and from there enter thebloodstream 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 andconcentration of the specific pollutant. The pollutants with the strongestevidence 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 atmosphericconditions and the direction of prevailing winds, pollutants can be carried1000’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, particulatematter, fungal spores and bacteria that impact health and air quality in other areas.

Netherlands air quality data attribution


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