Kids growing up near Schiphol have more respiratory issues

Airplane arriving at Schiphol Airport
Airplane arriving at Schiphol AirportPhoto: Schiphol/Twitter

People who live near Schiphol airport are regularly exposed to increased concentrations of ultra-fine particles in the air, which can have an effect on their health. On days that the wind blows from Schiphol, children with respiratory diseases show more symptoms and more often have to use their medication, according to the interim results of a study by public health institute RIVM, Utrecht University, and the Amsterdam academic medical center AMC. 

These results only involve the short-term exposure to increased concentrations of ultra-fine particulate matter around the Amsterdam airport. The study into the long-term effects is still ongoing.

The researchers found decreases in lung function in children and healthy adults. Complaints like shortness of breath and wheezing are more common when the wind blows from Schiphol. They also found changes in the heart function of healthy adults. On average, these changes are small and will likely not cause health problems, but may be an issue for people who are more sensitive to this due to preexisting conditions like asthma or heart problems. 

"We found that there is a correlation between the amount of ultra-fine particles in the air and health effects like respiratory issues", Brigit Janssen-Stelder of the RIVM said about their study among primary school children around Schiphol. "On days that the wind blows from Schiphol, towards Badhoevedorp for example, children have more issues with their airways, especially if they already have a respiratory issue, than on days that the wind comes from a different direction."

The researchers also found that part of the ultra-fine particulate matter in the air around the airport comes from air traffic, and part from road traffic. "No differences were found in effects caused by ultra-fine particles from road traffic or from air traffic", Janssen-Stelder said. "But of course it is true that near Schiphol there is more ultra-fine particles in the air due to the air traffic."

If people are worried about their health, the RIVM advises them to go to the doctor, especially if they notice an increase in respiratory complaints. "We now know that the respiratory issues can partly be caused by extra ultra-fine particles in the air", Janssen-Stelder said.

The RIVM, Utrecht University, and AMC are now investigating the health effects of long-term exposure to increased concentrations of ultra-fine particulate matter around the airport. A full report with all their findings is expected to be published in 2021.