The Netherlands has some of the best quality of life out of any country in the world today. In the EU, the Dutch have some of the best ratings for work-life balance, job opportunities, education, security, health and environmental status. In spite of that, however, recent studies have shown that there is a secret danger in the Netherlands: the air.

For years, the Netherlands was exempt from the EU air quality requirement of 40 micrograms per cubic meter. It was only in 2015 that the Netherlands was required to comply with EU standards, and since then the human toll has become clearer as more people studied the effects the poor air had on people. The data is quite clear; those aged 65 to 74 years had 48% more cases of COPD and pneumonia on a daily basis compared to younger age groups. That’s 74 cases daily compared to 50 for the younger age groups. In 2015, it was estimated that 18,000 Dutch people die every year of air pollution. It is the third largest cause of death in the country, next to smoking and obesity.

An older study cites the following gases and pollutants contributing to higher mortality rates: they are ozone (O3), sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), carbon monoxide (CO), particulate matter (PM10) and black smoke (PM2.5). These are all linked to the incredibly busy motorways and densely-packed urban cities in the Netherlands like Amsterdam and Rotterdam.

The government of the Netherlands is taking the appropriate steps to remedy the situation, fortunately. In March 2017 the country had a significant shift in political will following the elections. The transition to a caretaker government as the two major political parties (the VVD conservative-liberal party and the PvdA Labour Party) lost influence, so the minister for environment Sharon Dijksma has room to push for reforms to improve the country’s urban air quality.

Among the things being done is the reduction of cars in urban areas, including a ban on all gas and diesel-powered cars by 2030. In Amsterdam, for instance, the city has already managed to reduce automobile use to 19% of citizens, with about 66% of public transportation done through bicycles. The country is increasingly looking towards a car-free future, as private cars have been shown to be the top contributors to the gases and pollutants affecting the citizenry.

The effects will likely take decades to be felt, and the elderly of today will probably not be around to really feel the benefits. Still, it’s a wake-up call to safeguard the elderly who exist today. Great care should be taken in keeping their living areas clean and the air safe to breathe. Monitoring the air and ensuring that they are breathing clean air at all times is of the utmost importance, if we want to ensure their elderly years are to be lived out in peace without pain and suffering.