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France

Sun-drenched yet hazardous days come to Paris

© AFP

Text by Joseph BAMAT

Latest update : 2014-03-11

Residents and visitors to the French capital are basking in an unseasonal streak of sunshine. But as the T-shirts and sunglasses appear, so have the dire warnings of air pollution.

Weather forecasters on Monday said Paris would enjoy sunny skies and an average temperature of 19°C (66°F), but pollution watchdog group Airparif simultaneously announced that the city would experience a potentially dangerous level of air pollution.

Airparif, which takes readings of Paris’ air quality from a hot-air balloon that rises up to 300 metres above the city, raised the pollution level to “high” at the start of the working week.

On its own 10-point scale, where 10 represents the worst cases of smog, it said Monday would hit level 8.

Warnings of Paris’ poisoned perfect weather began last Friday, and are expected to continue throughout the week.

Health authorities have said that small children, seniors and people with asthma and other respiratory illnesses should avoid greeting the early dose of springtime and remain indoors.

City officials said over the weekend that people prone to health problems should avoid “intense sporting activities” and asked people to limit travel in private vehicles and instead to favour the use of public transportation.

French environmental groups worried over the recurring spikes in air pollution and unsatisfied by City Hall’s response, are now resorting to extraordinary measures.

Three organisations this week are filing a lawsuit against persons unknown for “endangering the lives of others”. 

It is an unprecedented legal move in France, which activists hope will force French leaders to take more meaningful steps towards curbing air pollution.

A question of particles

“Environmental regulators are understaffed while outlaw factories continue to emit waste. Citizens who live near big highways and next to ageing factories are suffering in silence, asphyxiated by [the government`s] contempt,” Respire, or Breathe, one of the groups filing the suit, said in a statement on Monday.

Respire and other environmental organisations point to several studies revealing that particulate matter air pollution, which comes mainly from vehicles, factories and industry, is deadly.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a branch of the World Health Organisation, officially classified particulate matter as carcinogenic in October.

Other recent studies in Asia and Europe have linked elevated levels of air pollution to reduced life expectancy and low birth weight among babies.

The recent high concentration of particulate matter in the Parisian air was blamed on the near absence of wind in the region and shortage of rain.

Following a peak in air pollution in December 2013, the Paris police prefecture lowered the speed limit for automobiles to 20 km/h in some areas and banned trucks weighing more than 3.5 tonnes from entering the city.

The French government said at the time that it would consider passing a road space rationing law in 2014, by which drivers would have to alternate the days they could use their vehicles based on license plate numbers.

Time-lapse video of air pollution peak in Paris, Dec. 2013

Date created : 2014-03-10

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