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March 1st, 2020:

Dutch health gains from reduced air pollution

A recent scientific study by researchers from the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) has investigated how much the air quality and associated health effects have improved in the Netherlands since 1980.

It also estimated how much of this change can be attributed to reductions in emissions in the Netherlands itself, and how much to emissions reductions in other countries, as well as which source sectors, domestic and foreign, and which policy measures contributed most to the improvements in air quality.

International air pollution control policies include those under the Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution (CLRTAP) as well as measures resulting from EU legislation. Additional emission reductions have also resulted from specific national and local initiatives.

Quantification was done by computer model calculations with high spatial resolution for concentrations of nitrogen dioxide (NO₂), particulate matter (PM₁₀, PM₂.₅), and elemental carbon (EC) in the Netherlands from 1980 to 2015, using two emission scenarios.

The first scenario follows the officially reported emissions of the relevant air pollutants in all European countries. It serves as a reference for the second scenario, in which it was assumed that no air quality policies had been adopted from 1980 onwards and that the emissions of air pollutants had continued to grow, largely in line with the growth in economic activity. Emission changes resulting from other effects, such as changes in the economic structure or improvements in energy efficiency, are said to be taken into account using activity data.

Benefits from emission reductions were quantified in terms of fewer exceedances of air quality limit values in the Netherlands, and lowered exposure of the Dutch population to high concentrations of air pollutants, including related reductions in health damage.

According to the study, the largest health effects of air pollution are associated with exposure to PM₂.₅ (about 85%), with a smaller contribution from exposure to NO₂ (about 15%).

In the scenario without policies, the average PM₂.₅ concentration in the Netherlands increased from 59 μg/m3 in 1980 to 102 μg/m3 in 2015. In reality, however, the concentrations decreased to about 12 μg/m3.

Similarly, the average NO₂ concentration increased from about 30 μg/m3 in 1980 to 45 μg/m3 in 2015 in the no-policy scenario, while the real development shows a reduction to about 15 μg/m3.