Exposure to particulate matter can have serious consequences, such as premature death, aggravation of cardiovascular diseases and respiratory diseases. By developing technology that provides insight into the sources, the associated composition and the harmfulness, TNO helps to limit the damage caused by particulate matter as much as possible.

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TNO develops sensors that measure the exposure of a person to particulate matter. In addition, we identify the composition and reactivity of particulate matter. The insight into personal exposure provides a picture of the health impact and our calculation models enable us to make predictions about distribution and exposure. We share this data with stakeholders, as we already do on the TOPAS website.

The most healthy cycling route

By combining our knowledge of measurement and modelling, we provide insight into the origin, distribution and health impact of particulate matter. This will enable public authorities, citizens and companies to take measures to limit emissions. In addition, we provide a real-time, health-relevant particulate matter indicator in European cities. Finally, we help stakeholders to choose the most healthy option, such as the most healthy cycle route to a destination.

Measure exposure to particulate matter

In order to make the findings applicable, TNO is developing a sensor that is as small as possible – such as the size of a matchbox - that people can carry with them. At the Hightech Campus in Eindhoven we are developing such a sensor for use in the building and construction industry, so that employees can protect themselves better or take a break for a while. The sensor measures particulate fractions and indicates the quantity. The next technology we are working on also provides information on the composition of the particulate matter that will allow us to see what kind of particles the particulate matter is composed of, such as salt, sand or soot.

And what is the effect on health? TNO aims to answer these questions by around 2021.

Other sources

While traffic emissions are decreasing, the presence of other sources is increasing. A current development is the reduction in traffic emissions while agriculture, for example, is generating particulate matter from ammonia, which is harmful to health. Airports also emit particulate matter and ultrafine particles, as do private homes where wood is burnt, particularly in winter. In inner cities, the burning of wood causes the majority of fine particles. Each source has its own impact on health. That is why the challenge facing TNO is not so much to indicate how many grams of the substance the air contains, but rather what the implications are for health.

Each particle has a different effect on health. For example, inhaling salt during a beach walk has a different effect than cycling behind a diesel car. So both visitors to and residents of cities also benefit from innovative solutions. TNO is conducting this research into health effects in collaboration with RIVM and various universities. But other partners are also welcome. The results are expected by around 2022 or 2023.


Drs. ing. Fred Hartendorf

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