Mention Paris and people think of the City of Love or the City of Lights, not the air pollution capital of the world. But the city and its people have been choking in dangerous levels of pollution and government authorities are scrambling to enact emergency measures next week.
New Delhi and Beijing have long been the pollution poster children of the world, but Paris actual topped them this past week on the ignominious list. Plume Labs, which monitors large cities around the globe, reported that Paris’ air quality was measured at 125 on their index this past Wednesday. Anything above 100 is considered to be harmful, so the Parisian results are concerning and leading to driving restrictions.
The dangerous particulates floating in the air above the city reportedly consist of two types: PM10 (from dirt and smoke) and the much smaller PM2.5, which contain toxic compounds and heavy metals. The latter type can bring serious health implications over time, such as asthma and eventually lung cancer.
The Paris pollution problem, which obscured views to and from the Eiffel Tower this week, is unusually bad this year. The smog, which has enveloped the French capital and other portions of northwestern France, was exacerbated by the weather this past month. March was a dry month. As the spring weather is warming up, more dangerous fine pollution particles filled the air. In the short term, the city desperately needs a few days of rain to wash many of the particles out of the air. However, no rain is in sight.
A manmade situation that is making it worse is common around several United States cities too – a freeway or roadway circling the city. “A big problem is the périphérique [city ring road] which is just about the busiest urban motorway in Europe,” said Christophe Najdovski, who is a spokesman for the city’s transport commissioner. A million cars a day reportedly use the road, and help ring the city in pollution from those vehicles.
Since there is no rain in the foreseeable future, Paris is taking drastic measure to halve the number of cars on the road beginning Monday. Mayor Anne Hidalgo’s office announced today that starting on Monday the right to driving in the city will be based on odd-numbered or even-numbered license plates on different days. Any electric or hybrid cars, as well as any vehicles carrying at least four people will be exempt. To satisfy the expected outcry, the government also announced that public transportation will be free during the emergency traffic restrictions. Public transit will be free, as will the city’s electric car- and bike sharing-programs.
While it is easy to dismiss the current Paris pollution problem as a 2015 weather-related phenomenon, it should be noted that this is not the first time the city sights have been obscured by smog. According to France 24, similar emergency pollution measures had to be implemented in Paris last year during a particularly bad spike in the pollution levels.
In the long term, the city is working to progressively ban the most polluting cars and trucks, particularly large number of diesel vehicles, from French streets. In the City of Lights, they are also upgrading and extending the Paris-area public transport network to further encourage the public to stop driving in private vehicles and reduce air pollution.
By Dyanne Weiss