Since the 1970s, European policies to improve air quality have resulted in fewer air polluting emissions, in many countries. As a result, levels of ambient concentrations of particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide have decreased. Research shows that, without European policies, the concentrations of air pollutants would have been considerably higher, and the average life expectancy in the Netherlands would have been 6 years shorter.
The current study shows the degree to which air quality and associated health effects in the Netherlands have improved since 1980. It also identifies the countries, sectors and policies responsible for this improvement. Two scenarios were used to calculate the ambient concentrations of air pollutants. The first scenario contains the officially reported emissions in Europe. It serves as a reference for the second scenario, which describes a situation without air quality policies, from 1980 onwards, leading to a significant growth in emission levels.
Elevated concentrations of air pollutants, such as sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5) have adverse effects on human health. To improve air quality, various policy measures have been taken in Europe, since the 1970s, which resulted in decreasing concentration levels of these pollutants in the Netherlands and other European countries.
In the scenario without policies, the average PM2.5 concentration level in the Netherlands increases from 59 µg m3 in 1980 to 102 µg m3 by 2015. In reality, concentrations decreased to about 12 µg m3. For the most part (56%), the difference stems from emission reductions in sectors outside the Netherlands. Industry (54%), agriculture (23%) and the transport sector (15%) are responsible for these decreases. Expressed in years of life, the European measures annually provide for some 700,000 additional life years, which, for the Netherlands, translates into about 6 more years of life per capita, on average.
Even with current levels of air pollutants, there are still health effects. The government and municipalities are therefore working to further improve air quality, in the coming years.