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In 2021, the Netherlands once again met the European limit values for nitrogen dioxide emitted at ground-level by road traffic. This was also the case for particulate matter along the roads, with the exception of a small stretch of road near Velsen. At some residential locations in areas with intensive livestock farming, the limit values for particulate matter were still exceeded in 2021. This occurred slightly more often than in 2020. These are the findings of the annual report of the National Air Quality Cooperation Programme (Nationaal Samenwerkingsprogramma Luchtkwaliteit, NSL). In this programme, the Dutch central government and local and regional authorities work together to eliminate exceedances of the European limit values for air quality.

Continued small effect of coronavirus measures

The low concentrations of nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter in 2020 and 2021 were partly due to the measures taken to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. In 2021, the concentrations were slightly higher than in 2020, to the extent that slightly more exceedances were calculated. This may be because there was more traffic and more economic activity in 2021 than in 2020.

Air quality expected to improve further

Air quality is expected to improve further in the coming years because traffic, industry and livestock farming are expected to emit less nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter. For example, older cars are replaced by newer ones that emit fewer nitrogen oxides every year. In 2030, the European limit values that now apply for nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter are no longer expected to be exceeded. By then, it is expected that even more measures will have been taken to improve air quality and mitigate climate change.

WHO air quality guidelines from 2021 not met

A different picture emerges if you take into account the new, stricter air quality guidelines of the WHO from 2021. In that scenario, many residents were exposed to concentrations above the recommended levels in 2021. These guidelines are currently not included in Dutch legislation.

Air quality crucial to health

Clean air is crucial to public health. Air pollution is still harmful, even in the case of concentrations below the European limit values. That is why the Dutch government wants to improve air quality. To this end, the government concluded the Clean Air Agreement (Schone Lucht Akkoord, SLA) with a number of municipalities and all provinces in 2020. The agreement includes a commitment to reduce the health effects of air pollution from Dutch sources by 50% by the year 2030.