Abstract Traffic is the main source of platinum-group element (PGE) contamination in populated urban areas. There is increasing concern about the hazardous effects of these new pollutants for people and for other living organisms in these areas. Airborne and road dusts, as well as tree bark and grass samples were collected at locations in the European cities of Göteborg (Sweden), Madrid (Spain), Rome (Italy), Munich (Germany), Sheffield and London (UK). Today, in spite of the large number of parameters that can influence the airborne PGE content, the results obtained so far indicate significantly higher PGE levels at traffic sites compared with the rural or non-polluted zones that have been investigated (background levels). The average Pt content in airborne particles found in downtown Madrid, Göteborg and Rome is in the range 7.3–13.1 pg m −3. The ring roads of these cities have values in the range 4.1–17.7 pg m −3. In Munich, a lower Pt content was found in airborne particles (4.1 pg m −3). The same tendency has been noted for downtown Rh, with contents in the range 2.2–2.8 pg m −3, and in the range 0.8–3.0 and 0.3 pg m −3 for motorway margins in Munich. The combined results obtained using a wide-range airborne classifier (WRAC) collector and a PM-10 or virtual impactor show that Pt is associated with particles for a wide range of diameters. The smaller the particle size, the lower the Pt concentration. However, in particles <PM-10, some of the highest values correspond to the fraction <0.39 μm. Considering an average Pt content in all particles of approximately 15 pg m −3, which is representative for all countries and environmental conditions, the tracheobronchial fraction represents approximately 10% and the alveolar fraction approximately 8% of the total particles suspended in air. However, from the environmental risk point of view, an exposure to PGEs in traffic-related ambient air is at least three orders of magnitude below the levels for which adverse health effects might theoretically occur (of approx. 100 ng m −3). Therefore, today inhalation exposure to PGEs from automotive catalysts does not seem to pose a direct health risk to the general population. Even though the data available today indicate no obvious health effects, there are still a number of aspects related to PGEs and catalysts that justify further research. First, continual monitoring of changes in PGE levels in air and road dust is warranted, to make sure that there is no dramatic increase from today's levels. Secondly, more detailed information on the chemical composition of the PGE-containing substances or complexes leaving the catalyst surface and the size distribution of the PGE-containing particles released during driving will facilitate a more in-depth human risk assessment.