Set aside any romantic notions of Paris in the spring. Visitors to the French capital are facing the choice of using an umbrella or wearing a mask.
Paris is suffering under a seasonal pollution crisis that could drive the concentration of particles called PM10 and PM2.5 in some areas to levels as thick as in Beijing yesterday, according to Airparif, the city’s air-quality monitor.
The dirtiest areas are tourist hotspots, including Rue Royale near Place de la Concorde, Rue de Rivoli near the Louvre museum, the Grands Boulevards near department stores and the Marais.
Urban canyons trap the particles, Airparif pollution analyst Frederic Mahe said.’
“The level of pollution there can be as high as in the middle of a highway,” he said.
The outbreak that appeared on Tuesday resulted from a host of human and environmental reasons: a mix of cold nights and hot or wet days; farmers in the north and east spreading manure that releases particles of nitrogen; and pollution blowing from eastern neighbors.
Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo has responded by permitting free car parking, bans on heavy trucks, and free rentals of bikes and the city’s fleet of electric cars. She has also clashed with French Environment Minister Segolene Royal.
Royal says that limiting cars to driving on alternate days curtails “freedom” of movement. Last month, Royal’s rebuke forced Hidalgo to call on French President Francois Hollande to intervene.
He sided with the mayor.
Such traffic restrictions imposed in March last year effectively lowered emissions and alleviated smog choking Paris, Airparif said.
The mayor also called for a ban on diesel vehicles from before 2001. Hollande, who praised new diesel engines as he visited a Peugeot SA factory on March 29, offered a 10,000 euro (US$10,781) premium for owners of old diesel cars to switch to electric vehicles, and 6,500 euros for hybrid cars.
It is not the best timing for France to be wrestling with environmental crises.
Hollande wants to show he is serious about cutting emissions to showcase the country’s role as the organizer of the UN Climate Change conference in December. The goal of the Paris gathering will be for countries to sign a deal reducing greenhouse-gas emissions to fight global warming.
For Hidalgo, cutting emissions is not just for tourists.
Lowering particles PM10 to WHO levels would avoid 476 hospital admissions a year and 112 deaths. Complying with WHO requirements for smaller PM2.5 particle levels would add six months to residents’ life expectancy, representing 4 billion euros of economic gain, a 2011 study by the French health ministry showed.
More than one quarter of the Paris region’s 12 million residents were exposed to excessive pollution in 2013, Airparif reported. The hope is that next spring will be better.
An “antipollution plan” will ban older polluting diesel vehicles from July. The mayor is awaiting Royal’s decision on preventing high-polluting vehicles from the Champs Elysees, the Marais and Rue de Rivoli.
Hidalgo’s next plan is for bikes. She promised to turn Paris into the “world capital of cycling.” The city will spend 150 million euros by 2020 to double bike lanes, add bike parking spots, build new routes and barrier-protected bike highways, and give financial incentives to buy electric bikes.
“Fighting pollution can’t be a brake on economic and tourist activity,” said Nadhera Beletreche, a spokeswoman for the Paris mayor. “But our role is also to ensure the safety of Parisians and making Paris a clean air city, attractive also for that reason.”
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