Nowhere else in Europe are so many children with asthma caused by exhaust fumes.

Nowhere else in Europe are so many children with asthma caused by exhaust fumes.

In one in five children with asthma in the Netherlands, the disease is related to air pollution caused by traffic. In no other European country is this number so high. In the big cities, exhaust fumes are held responsible for even more asthma in children.




That’s what research published in the renowned medical journal The Lancet . According to the scientists, the emission of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) is the main culprit for children with lung disease. This gas is mainly released into the air through the exhausts of diesel cars and trucks.

In the Netherlands, asthma is the most common chronic disease among children. According to the Longfonds, approximately 100,000 children up to the age of fourteen years have asthma. Children are exposed to air pollution day in, day out. The government must do more to protect them against this”, says Michael Rutgers, director of the Lung Fund, which today rings the alarm together with lung and paediatricians, care providers and scientists.


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Longarts Hans in ‘t Veld sees the consequences of air pollution at his surgery every day. Nitrogen dioxide is truly an assassin. You don’t see it, you don’t notice it, but it does cause inflammation in the airways. Asthma often occurs in childhood. I speak to children who get stuffy during sports, children who can’t play outside on nice summer days and children who have such irritable respiratory tract that they don’t know how to get through the turn of the year. “Clean air can prevent so much suffering.

“Nitrogen dioxide is a real assassin. You don’t see it, you don’t notice it, but it does cause inflammation in the airways”. – Lung specialist Hans in ‘t Veld


Clean air agreement

State Secretary Stientje van Veldhoven (Infrastructure and Water Management) is working on a Clean Air Agreement, with the aim of ‘achieving a 50% health gain in 2030 in the run-up to 2016’.  

Although air pollution has roughly halved since 1990, 11,000 people still die each year in the Netherlands as a result of the consequences. On average, the Dutch live nine months shorter due to air pollution, but the differences are considerable. The number of casualties is highest in the large cities, the Randstad, along busy roads and in the vicinity of cattle farms. The loss of life there can be as much as eighteen months, whereas in the cleanest areas of the Netherlands it is ‘only’ four months.



Some 1.2 million Dutch people also suffer from lung disease. Air pollution also affects the quality of life and has an impact on nature”, Minister Van Veldhoven stated in a letter to the Lower House at the beginning of this summer. She points out that, after smoking, air pollution is the biggest cause of health costs in the Netherlands. 

The decrease in the concentration of nitrogen dioxide in the air has stagnated in recent years. According to the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) , the share of nitrogen dioxide in exhaust gases is increasing as a result of measures aimed at reducing the amount of particulate matter. In addition, the Dutch roads have become busier.


Call for a faster approach to major polluters

Longfonds, pulmonologists and scientists are calling for schools, nurseries and sports fields not to be located along motorways and for the major polluters to be tackled more quickly. In addition, they point out that the intended health benefits can be achieved much faster than in 2030 with measures such as reducing the maximum speed on motorways and the introduction of a kilometre charge. Our air can and must simply be cleaner,’ says Longfonds director Michael Rutgers. The national government must take the lead in this. 

“Our air can and must simply be cleaner. The national government must take the lead in this”. Michael Rutgers from Longfonds

On Thursday, the House of Representatives will debate the Clean Air Agreement. Members of Parliament will receive a petition today calling for more ambitious measures, which has been signed by, among others, the Lung Fund, the Heart Foundation and professional associations of lung doctors, cardiologists, paediatricians, general practitioners and lung nurses. 

They point out that industry, livestock farming and, for example, wood-burning stoves are also major causes of air pollution. The government cannot solve this problem on its own, emphasises lung specialist In ‘t Veld. As consumers, with our cars and wood-burning stoves, we are all air polluters. The good news is that we are also part of the solution.”


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