© Hollandse Hoogte

Concentrations of particulate matter in urban areas

Annual average concentrations of particulate matter (PM10) in urban areas have been decreasing since the year 2000. Although the long-term trend is heading downward, concentrations can vary considerably from year to year due to meteorological conditions.

Particulate matter consists of particles less than 10 micrometres in diameter. European limit values for the annual average concentration for PM10 and PM2.5 are 40 μg and 25 μg per cubic meter, respectively. The daily average for PM10 may not exceed 50 μg per cubic meter more than 35 times per calendar year. The World Health Council standard for PM2.5 is 10 μg per cubic meter.

The issue

Air pollution with particulate matter affects human health. Particles can penetrate deep into the lungs and can cause inflammation, asthma, chronic bronchitis and cardiovascular diseases. Since pollution is mostly the result of production and consumption, it is an important aspect to assess in the framework of green growth.


The downward trend in concentrations of particulate matter is a result of the application of filters in many production processes as well as in the transport sector. Emissions of PM10 have been cut by 39.5 percent between 2000 and 2016 (CBS, PBL, RIVM, WUR, 2017). A large part of particulate matter is a result of human activities abroad (CBS, PBL, RIVM, WUR, 2013).

From 2009 up untill 2016, concentrations of PM2.5 fell at a comparable rate as PM10 concentrations (CBS, PBL, RIVM, WUR, 2017). This means that the decline of finer fractions dominates the fall in PM10 concentration. Due to weather conditions significant deviations exist between years in the measured particulate matter concentrations. Furthermore, large differences in concentrations exist between locations. 

International comparison

Compared to other European countries annual average concentrations of particulate matter (PM10) in urban areas in the Netherlands are slightly below average. Scandinavian countries, United Kingdom and Ireland have lower concentrations. In the Eastern European countries concentrations are generally higher than in the Netherlands. Only 27 countries are shown in the graph; data on Malta are missing because they were not available at the time of publication.