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External health costs caused by traffic related air pollution in Switzerland

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Complete with results
Geo-spatial type
Project Acronym
STRIA Roadmaps
Transport mode
Multimodal icon
Transport policies
Environmental/Emissions aspects,
Societal/Economic issues
Transport sectors
Passenger transport,
Freight transport


Background & Policy context

The Federal Office for Spatial Development is currently reconsidering all the external effects caused by road and rail traffic. The available data were partly based on relatively old calculations which are now brought up to date.

Thus safety (accidents), health costs and damage to buildings due to air pollution as well as noise are evaluated.


The objective of the study is to establish the external health costs caused by air pollution from road and rail traffic in Switzerland in the year 2000. The results are to be broken down into costs originating from passenger and from freight transport.


An additional objective is to determine the health costs that are caused by air pollution overall (including all other emissions from industry/commerce, households and agriculture/forestry). For health costs due to traffic-related air pollution the study also calculates costs rates per kilometre travelled.


The following methodological approach is chosen to establish air pollution-related health costs:

  • The basis of all calculations is the population exposure to pollution. This is determined by using a pollution exposure model.
  • Exposure to pollution is reflected in additional cases of illness and/or in a reduced life expectancy among the population concerned. With the relationship between pollution exposure and rates of morbidity and mortality (the dose-response-function) the number of air pollution-related cases of illness and death is determined.
  • In order to derive health costs from the above figures, a final stage determines which expenses and (utility) losses are incurred by the individuals concerned and the general public as a result of these additional cases of illness and death. The territorial principle is applied to establishing health costs, i.e. the costs of the harmful effects of air pollution in Switzerland are calculated. It is impossible to calculate air pollution-related health costs without first making assumptions and simplifications.

This project is therefore based on the principle of being 'as realistic as possible but, if in doubt, conservative'. In practice this means that, wherever uncertainties exist, the assumptions that have been made are cautious and will tend to result in actual costs being underestimated rather than overestimated.

In the literature, this principle is often referred to as the 'at least approach'.


Parent Programmes
Institution Type
Public institution
Institution Name
Federal Office for Spatial Development (ARE – Bundesamt für Raumentwicklung / Office fédéral du développement territorial / Ufficio federale dello sviluppo territoriale)
Type of funding
Public (national/regional/local)


First of all, the population's exposure to airborne pollutants is determined. Based on this, the additional cases of illness and death caused by air pollution are calculated. Using specific cost rates per incidence of illness and death, the impacts on health are then converted into monetary units. Concerning road trafficis, health costs related to air pollution run to some 1,525 million CHF, of which 57% or 871 million CHF are caused by passenger transport, while the remaining 43% or 655 million CHF are caused by freight transport.

The corresponding figure for rail traffic is 100 million CHF (46% passenger and 54% freight transport).


Air pollution overall – caused by traffic, industry, commerce, households, agriculture and forestry – results in costs of 4,204 million CHF. This figure corresponds to 628 CHF per capita, or compared to GDP it is in the order of magnitude of 1.12%. Putting a value on years of life lost is one of the key factors in the aggregate result: just under 81% of all health costs are attributable to premature death or years of life lost (with 95% of this figure accounted for by intangible costs). New cases of chronic bronchitis among adults cause around 9.9% of total costs, while the figure for restricted activity days is approximately 8.3%. The other four health outcomes are much less significant, accounting for less than 0.5%.

Policy implications

Uncertainties are inherent in the calculations presented here. We have applied an at least approach, i.e. assumptions have been made according to the principle of being "as realistic as possible but, if in doubt, conservative". Therefore we believe that the reported costs underestimate the actual impairment to health.

The results should be interpreted with caution.


Lead Organisation
EU Contribution
Partner Organisations
EU Contribution


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