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Smog triggers vehicle use limits

By Agencies in Paris | China Daily | Updated: 2014-03-17 07:56

France makes public transportation free to get people to leave cars at home

The French government will introduce alternate driving days in Paris on Monday for the first time in nearly two decades to tackle dangerous levels of air pollution in the city.

It is only the second time that French authorities have resorted to the drastic restriction, which means that drivers will only be able to use their cars on alternate days.

The government made the announcement after particulate matter in the air exceeded safe levels for five days running in the capital and other areas.

The smog belt stretched for hundreds of kilometers, from France's Atlantic coast to Belgium and well into Germany. It was the worst air pollution France has seen since 2007, the European Environment Agency said.

Nearly all of France was under some sort of pollution alert on Friday, with levels in the area of Paris surpassing some of those in the world's most polluted cities, including Beijing and Delhi.

All public transportation was made free over the weekend to persuade residents to leave their cars at home.

By Saturday the number of polluting particulates in the air had fallen slightly after hitting a high of 180 micrograms per cubic meter - well more than double the safe limit - on Friday.

These so-called PM10 particulates are created by vehicles, heating and heavy industry, and the safe limit is considered to be 80 per cubic meter.

With pollution levels forecast to increase beginning Sunday evening, the prime minister's office announced the decision to restrict drivers in and around the capital for the first time since 1997.

French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said limiting vehicle use was "necessary" to deal with the new peak of air pollution despite the "difficulties that this measure may cause to the everyday lives of Parisians".

Motorbikes are also covered by the restriction, which will allow only vehicles with uneven numbered plates on the road on Monday.

The government unveiled other anti-pollution measures, including restrictions on vehicle speed and on burning fuel.

The smoggy conditions have been caused by a combination of cold nights and warm days, which have prevented pollution from dispersing.

Also, France has an unusually high number of diesel vehicles, whose nitrogen oxide fumes mix with ammonia from springtime fertilizers and form particulate ammonium nitrate. Pollutants from the burning of dead leaves and wood contribute as well, experts said.

The pollution particulates in the air can cause asthma attacks as well as respiratory and heart problems. The World Health Organization has said finer particulates - known as PM2.5 - can cause cancer.

Valentin Foltescu, European Environment Agency air quality manager, said there's no question that pollution can be an immediate health hazard, especially for the very young and old and for anyone with respiratory or cardiac disorders.

"Some people will, unfortunately, die," Foltescu said. "There is a high correlation of pollution of this kind and mortality."

But automobile associations criticized the restrictions as "stupid".

"I am amazed to see that a small lobby has managed to convince people that cars were behind this peak in pollution," said Pierre Chasseray, head of a drivers association called 40 Millions d'Automobilistes.

"This measure is worse than unfair; it is stupid."


 Smog triggers vehicle use limits

This combination of photos shows the Eiffel Tower through a haze of pollution on Friday (right) and during clear weather in August 2012. Bertrand Guay and Kenzo Tribouillard / Agence France-Presse

(China Daily 03/17/2014 page10)

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