- Background Worldwide, ambient air pollution accounts for around 3.7 million deaths annually. Measuring the burden of disease is important not just for advocacy but also is a first step towards carrying out a full cost-utility analysis in order to prioritise technological interventions that are available to reduce air pollution (and subsequent morbidity and mortality) from industrial, power generating and vehicular sources. Methods We calculated the average national exposure to particulate matter particles less than 2.5 μm (PM2.5) in diameter by weighting readings from 52 (non-roadside) monitoring stations by the population of the catchment area around the station. The PM2.5 exposure level was then multiplied by the gender and cause specific (Acute Lower Respiratory Infections, Asthma, Circulatory Diseases, Coronary Heart Failure, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, Diabetes, Ischemic Heart Disease, Lung Cancer, Low Birth Weight, Respiratory Diseases and Stroke) relative risks and the national age, cause and gender specific mortality (and hospital utilisation which included neuro-degenerative disorders) rates to arrive at the estimated mortality and hospital days attributable to ambient PM2.5 pollution in Israel in 2015. We utilised a WHO spread-sheet model, which was expanded to include relative risks (based on more recent meta-analyses) of sub-sets of other diagnoses in two additional models. Results Mortality estimates from the three models were 1609, 1908 and 2253 respectively in addition to 184,000, 348,000 and 542,000 days hospitalisation in general hospitals. Total costs from PM2.5 pollution (including premature burial costs) amounted to $544 million, $1030 million and $1749 million respectively (or 0.18 %, 0.35 % and 0.59 % of GNP). Conclusions Subject to the caveat that our estimates were based on a limited number of non-randomly sited stations exposure data. The mortality, morbidity and monetary burden of disease attributable to air pollution from particulate matter in Israel is of sufficient magnitude to warrant the consideration of and prioritisation of technological interventions that are available to reduce air pollution from industrial, power generating and vehicular sources. The accuracy of our burden estimates would be improved if more precise estimates of population exposure were to become available in the future. Electronic supplementary material The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/s13584-016-0110-7) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.