Traffic emits a lot of soot. The relative contribution by wood burning has been gradually increasing in recent years. Soot particles are residual products from the (incomplete) burning of carbonaceous fuels. Soot concentrations are high along major roads and in town and city centres. Soot is an element of particulate matter and this soot fraction is regarded as important in the context of health effects.

Current situation

In the Netherlands, it is estimated that the amount of soot produced by traffic (therefore on top of the background concentration) exceeds 0.5 micrograms per cubic metre at more than 24,000 residential or work locations in towns and cities or along busy roads. People who are exposed for any length of time live, on average, three months shorter than if they had not lived along that busy road. Study the annual average soot concentration at your location for 2013, 2014 of 2015.

The difference between soot and ultrafine particles

Soot is produced when ultrafine carbon/particles clump together. Ultrafine particles can also contain substances other than soot. The majority of ultrafine particles are released during burning (wood fires, industry, engines, cooking vapours or cigarette smoke). On top of this, ultrafine particles are also released into the air as a consequence of the wear and tear of metal components, such as overhead power lines used by trains, or vehicle brakes.


More and more diesel cars have been fitted with filters which effectively reduce the amount of soot emitted. On the basis of current policy it is estimated that the soot concentration will continue to decrease in the coming years and will have been almost halved in 2020 compared to the current level. The expectation for the future is that the most important source of soot will be wood-burning stoves.

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Soot and particulate matter

Short-term (for one or more days) high exposure to particulate air pollution, including soot, has an effect on the health of people who are already sensitive to such pollution. They may be suffering from coughs and tightness of chest and worsening of respiratory complaints and temporary deterioration in pulmonary function. Children, parents and people with existing respiratory disorders or cardiovascular diseases are the most sensitive groups. The symptoms usually disappear again as soon as the concentration of particulate matter in the air drops. A relationship is also believed to exist with the increased daily mortality from cardiovascular diseases and respiratory diseases.

Long-term exposure to soot can have effects on people's health, such as reduced pulmonary function and exacerbation of respiratory complaints. People can also die prematurely due primarily to respiratory complaints (lung cancer) and cardiovascular diseases. The fact that soot is strongly linked to traffic emissions means that, in particular, people who live close to busy roads will be exposed to the soot particles for a lengthy period of time. On the basis of the available literature Janssen et al. estimated, in 2011, that the life of someone who lived at a location with 0.5 ug/m3 more soot was approximately 3 months shorter than the life expectancy of someone who lived in a soot-free location.

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European and national policy is intended to reduce people's exposure to particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide. A threshold value has been set for particulate matter but not for soot. Soot is part of the particular matter mixture. The exposure of the population can be reduced by setting limits for the amount of particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide which countries are allowed to emit and by imposing stricter emissions requirements on vehicles and installations. The stricter European requirements on vehicle emissions apply to particulate matter, but have a major influence on the emission of soot.

Policy development

In December 2013, the European Commission submitted a new proposal for a directive to reduce the admission of certain air pollutants, e.g. particulate matter. According to this proposal the Netherlands has to reduce its emissions of particulate matter (including soot) by 38% before 2030.

If all intended policy measures are successfully implemented, the Netherlands will already have largely complied with the proposed reduction in around 2020. Up to now the European Parliament and the European Council of Ministers have not yet reached agreement on the Commission's proposal.

Local traffic measures to reduce exposure include, for example, defining environmental zones, replacing old cars, reducing maximum speeds, promoting healthier modes of transport (walking, cycling), etc.

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Things you can do yourself to combat air pollution

You can also do things to limit air pollution or its effects. You can, for example, opt for environmental friendly transport or for cycling route which takes you past less contaminated areas. You can also reduce the energy consumed at home or you can limit the number of bonfires in the garden. The Environment Centre [Milieu Centraal] provides practical tips on how you can reduce any harmful health effects of air pollution yourself.


A bonfire in your garden can be fun and make everyone feel cosy. It can, however, cause all kinds of nuisance and air pollution. The Environment Centre can tell you what is and is not allowed and what you can do if you experience nuisance due to wood burning stoves or bonfires.

Suggested activities which can be carried out in your own region

A number of general activities are referred to here. More activities may be possible in and around the location you have selected.

edited February 13th 2018