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Air quality has improved in recent years, but does not meet the health standards
The air quality in Utrecht has improved. The European thresholds for particulates are met everywhere in Utrecht, the limits for nitrogen dioxide are met in nearly all parts of Utrecht.
When the air quality meets the European threshold and target values, this does not mean that health is sufficiently protected. The World Health Organization (WHO) has also drawn up recommended values for a number of airborne substances. These are generally more stringent than the European thresholds. And even if the amounts of these airborne substances are lower than the WHO recommended levels, they can still cause adverse health effects and premature deaths.

What is air pollution and what are its health effects?
Air pollution consists of a mixture of substances such as particulates, nitrogen oxide, nitrogen dioxide and ozone. Particulates is a collective term for all solid and liquid particles in the air that are small enough to be inhaled. Particulates are produced by agriculture, traffic, industry and wood burning, for example.
Nitrogen oxides (nitric oxide and nitrogen dioxide) are released during all combustion processes, for example motorised traffic.
Ozone protects against harmful radiation from the sun, but is harmful at higher concentrations. It is the result of a reaction between nitrogen oxides and hydrocarbons.

The main health effects of exposure to particulates, nitrogen dioxide and ozone are the onset and worsening of respiratory and lung conditions (including lung cancer) and cardiovascular diseases and premature death.

Burden of disease due to air pollution
In the Netherlands, nearly 6% of the total burden of disease is due to exposure to environmental factors. Exposure to particulates alone is responsible for about 4% of the burden of disease. After smoking (13%), air pollution is therefore one of the most important risk factors, in the same order of magnitude as obesity (5%), and
little physical activity (3-4%). In urban areas, the contribution to the total burden of disease is higher and varies between 8% and 12%.

Air quality in Utrecht is comparable to that in other large cities
The air quality in Utrecht is comparable to that in other large cities in the Netherlands. The improvement in air quality over the past decades is expected to continue in the future. At a local level, air pollution can still cause (temporary) exposure to increased concentrations of air pollutants.

National concentrations of nitrogen dioxide*:

The concentrations of nitrogen dioxide in big cities are higher than the national average.
Traffic is an important source of air pollution

Road traffic is an important source of air pollution. Although the air quality in Utrecht is expected to have improved by 2030, road traffic will still be the largest local source of air pollution. A large share of the total pollution originates from outside the city and this amount will increase proportionally in the future.

Contribution to air pollution 2015 and 2030:

(Source: RIVM Gezonde Omgeving Utrecht (GO! Utrecht) Briefrapport 2017-0189 / Gemeente
Utrecht raadsbrief Luchtkwaliteit en gezondheid 3 1 2018)

Measuring air quality in Utrecht
In Utrecht, the Air Quality Monitoring Network [Utrechts Luchmeetnet] measures the amount of nitrogen dioxide in the air at more than sixty measurement points. There are also three measuring points of the National Air Quality Monitoring Network of the RIVM where particulates, nitrogen oxides and ozone are measured.

* This is the (population-weighted) average concentration of nitrogen dioxide.