France Offers Free Public Transportation Due To Worst Air Pollution In Years
March 15, 2014

Air Pollution Forces France To Offer Free Weekend Public Transportation

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

With most of the country suffering from what is being called the worst air pollution since 2007, several cities in France are making buses, trains and other forms public transportation available free of charge this weekend.

According to The Telegraph’s Henry Samuel, Paris, Caen, Grenoble, Reims and Rouen are among the cities that will be waiving public transportation fees over the next few days. The move is being described as an attempt to reduce the number of cars on the roads in the wake of “dangerously” high levels of air pollution.

Samuel noted that 75 percent of France is under maximum alert, and that the European Environment Agency (EEA) is calling the air quality the worst in more than seven years. The toxic smog has been unable to disperse due to unseasonably warm days, windless conditions and cool nights, meteorologists told the UK newspaper.

On Thursday, EEA figures showed that there were 147 micrograms of particulate matter per cubic meter of air in Paris, according to Michel Rose of Reuters. In comparison, particulate matter levels were 114 in Brussels, 104 in Amsterdam, 81 in Berlin and just 79.7 in London.

Likewise, the background pollution levels there reportedly exceeded the 100 maximum measurable index level on Thursday, while the general statistic of outdoor air quality stood at 81 in London, 76 in Berlin and 61 in Madrid.

“The French capital has been under maximum pollution alert for several days… and the air is expected to remain exceptionally unhealthy until the end of the weekend,” said AFP reporter Sophie Lautier.

“The pollution has also affected other nearby countries, including Belgium where authorities have reduced the maximum speed allowed on main roads in a bid to reduce the strong concentration of polluting particles in the atmosphere,” she added.

Jean-Paul Huchon, head of the group that oversees public transport in and around the Paris area, said that the decision to waive charges through Sunday evening was due to the “significant risks to the health of residents” that the pollution poses, Lautier said.

Over 30 departments nationwide are currently under maximum level pollution alerts, leading French Ecology Minister Philippe Martin to call air quality “an emergency” and a top government priority. However, an EEA spokesperson told Reuters that the air quality was far worse in other so-called pollution hotspots.

“While the current levels in Europe do pose a significant risk to health, peak levels can be up to 4-5 times higher in Asian cities like Beijing,” he said. “Nevertheless, the levels of PM pollution encountered in the currently affected European regions would also be classified as pollution episodes in Asian cities.”

Fine particles that are less than 2.5 microns in diameter pose the greatest health risks, as they are capable of penetrating the lungs and the circulatory system, according to the AFP. These particles can also result in asthma, allergies and other respiratory ailments.

“The pollution is such that members of France's Green party have urged authorities to restrict the use of vehicles to alternate days, depending on whether their number plates end with an odd or even number,” Lautier said. “They have also called for trucks to be temporarily banned in the French capital.”