Long-term exposure to particulate air pollution and nitrogen dioxide has been found to be associated with total mortality and mortality from respiratory diseases and lung cancer in the Netherlands. This was the key finding of a recent study by RIVM and Utrecht University in which a new method was used to analyse data on 7 million adults living in the Netherlands. The study was published in the Environmental Health Perspectives Journal.

Large study population

This study in the Netherlands is the largest cohort study ever carried out on the association between mortality and air quality at residential address. Deaths in the seven million study population over a seven-year period up to the end of 2010 were obtained from Statistics Netherlands (CBS), and linked anonymously to other CBS data, such as age, gender, marital status and address.  On the basis of encrypted residential addresses, data on fine particulates and nitrogen dioxide in 2001 were linked to the residential addresses of the seven million study participants.

New insights

Up until recently, only levels of fine particulates have been used in calculations of premature deaths associated with air pollution in general. The RIVM study found that, in addition to the effect of fine particulates, nitrogen dioxide is also associated with premature deaths linked to air pollution. The study also found an increased mortality risk in people under the age of 65 while previously, it was thought that premature death due to the effects of air pollution occurred mainly in older people.

Expanding the research

RIVM is cooperating with the Institute for Risk Assessment Sciences in Utrecht University and using the same method to investigate the health effects of environmental factors other than air pollution, such as noise and green in the living environment. In addition, the same method can be used to study other long-term health effects, such as medicine use.