High Pollutions Levels in an Unexpected City

We've come to expect hight air pollution levels in Beijing and other Asian cities with high traffic levels and surrounded by dirty coal plants, but not in cities using emission-free nuclear energy and lots of bikes and mass transit. So why Paris?

March 17, 2014, 7:00 AM PDT

By Irvin Dawid

Ça c'est Paris

Leandro Neumann Ciuffo / Flickr

The Eiffel Tower was shrouded in smog on Friday (March 14), not what one would expect in Paris. The pollution "has been building for days as a high-pressure system over the region created a string of sunny days with little wind, cold nights and warm days that left pollutants trapped in this low-lying city on the Seine River. Until this week, there had been little concerted effort to reduce pollution from cars and trucks," writes Alissa J. Rubin. 

But now that it's here, perhaps no other city can match the mitigations undertaken to reduce pollution levels. 

"Paris has been on the forefront of bicycle- and car-sharing, putting ranks of bikes and small electric cars in most neighborhoods and allowing Parisians and tourists to pay low rates to rent them," writes Rubin. And with the pollution, Parisians and visitors will enjoy free public transit for the next three days.

In a New York Times article posted here last October on European air pollution, Paris was rated #250 in the graphic of selected cities.

However, it turns out that France may deserve some blame as the high concentration of pollutants may not be entirely due to the extremely mild winter:

The European Commission has repeatedly warned France that it is not complying with Europe-wide rules on air contaminant levels.

The pollution is not restricted to the Paris region nor even France. "Current concentrations of particulate matter (PM10) are unusually high across a wide region of Western Europe," reports the European Environment Agency. They add, "While the current levels in Europe pose a significant risk to health, peak levels can be up to 4-5 times higher in Asian cities like Beijing."

And while Paris can boast having among the world's best public transit systems and France has among the cleanest utilities, it could learn a thing or two from polluted California regions. While the government "asked people to refrain from burning wood in their fireplaces," regulators in the Bay Area, Central Valley, and Los Angeles have already implemented mandatory "no burn" days, backed-up with citations

Update, March 16: Paris bans driving on alternate days because particulate pollution exceeded permissible levels for the last five days, reports The Telegraph.

From 5.30am on Monday, only cars with odd-numbered licence plates will be allowed to drive in the Île-de-France region, with the restrictions applying to even-numbered cars on Tuesday if, as predicted, the air pollution continues.

Friday, March 14, 2014 in The New York Times - Europe


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