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POLLUTION

Paris air pollution is ‘putting lives in danger’

Environmental groups in the French capital have said "enough is enough" and lodged a legal complaint forcing judges to investigate high levels of pollution in Paris, which they say are putting people’s lives in danger.

Paris air pollution is 'putting lives in danger'
The Eiffel Tower and Paris, obscured by dangerously high levels of fine particles, which are "endangering people's lives". Photo: VideoSurf/Screengrab

While the return of the dry weather in recent days has been welcomed by Parisians, it has also brought with it a more unwelcome side effect – a rise in pollution levels.

While most Parisians will only be concerned with soaking up the sun, environmental groups have other priorities.

They want authorities to tackle the pollution danger caused by high levels of nitrogen dioxide in the air, which pose a risk to anyone who suffers from asthma and breathing difficulties.

Ecology without Borders (Écologie sans Frontière), Breath (Respire) and Unity for the Planet (Rassemblement pour la Planète) have lodged a legal complaint in Paris, on the grounds that pollution levels are endangering people’s lives.

“We are sick of this air pollution,” Nadir Saifi, spokesman of Ecology with Borders told France Info. As soon as the weather is good, and as soon as it's dry in winter you have these peaks in pollution and the emergency wards at hospitals fill up. Slogans and small demonstrations are no longer enough.”

According to the Airparif, the national air quality and pollution agency, levels of particles are so high that even a brief exposure poses a risk to the health of certain vulnerable members of the population.

The pollution in and around Paris is generally caused by the particles known as PM 10, that are emitted by vehicles as well as by chimneys of houses and factories. 

Such particles are too tiny to be filtered in the mouth and nostrils, and so embed themselves in the lungs more easily, and can have significant negative health effects.

Pollution levels tend to rise in winter because of the increase in fuel, notably wood.

In December The Local reported how pollution levels had reached their highest levels in six years. To illustrate the dire quality of air in Paris this week, meteorological website Météo Consult published this short time-lapse video of the Eiffel Tower, obscured by clouds of particles throughout the day.

Airparif says levels, which peaked on Friday, will continue to remain high throughout the early part of this week.

On Friday, speed limits were reduced on roads around Paris in order to try and cut the levels and on Sunday police in the capital advised vulnerable people to avoid strenuous activities. 

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ENVIRONMENT

France gets help from EU neighbours as wildfires rage

Firefighting teams and equipment from six EU nations started to arrive in France on Thursday to help battle a spate of wildfires, including a fierce blaze in the parched southwest that has forced thousands to evacuate.

France gets help from EU neighbours as wildfires rage

Most of the country is sweltering under a summer heatwave compounded by a record drought – conditions most experts say will occur more often as a result of rapid climate change.

“We must continue, more than ever, our fight against climate disruption and … adapt to this climate disruption,” Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said after arriving at a fire command post in the village of Hostens, south of Bordeaux.

The European Commission said four firefighting planes would be sent to France from Greece and Sweden, as well as teams from Austria, Germany, Poland and Romania.

“Our partners are coming to France’s aid against the fires. Thank you to them. European solidarity is at work!” President Emmanuel Macron tweeted.

“Across the country over 10,000 firefighters and security forces are mobilised against the flames… These soldiers of fire are our heroes,” he said.

In total, 361 foreign firefighters were  dispatched to assist their 1,100 French colleagues deployed in the worst-hit part of the French southwest.

A first contingent of 65 German firefighters, followed by their 24 vehicles, arrived Thursday afternoon and were to go into action at dawn Friday, officials said.

Among eight major fires currently raging, the biggest is the Landiras fire in the southwest Gironde department, whose forests and beaches draw huge tourist crowds each summer.

It had already burned 14,000 hectares (35,000 acres) in July – the driest month seen in France since 1961 – before being contained, but it continued to smoulder in the region’s tinder-dry pine forests and peat-rich soil.

Since flaring up again Tuesday, which officials suspect may have been caused by arson, it has burned 7,400 hectares, destroyed or damaged 17 homes, and forced 10,000 people to quit their homes, said Lieutenant Colonel Arnaud Mendousse of the Gironde fire and rescue service.

Borne said nine firefighting planes are already dumping water on the blaze, with two more to be in service by the weekend.

“Gigantic”
“We battled all night to stop the fire from spreading, notably to defend the village of Belin-Beliet,” Mendousse told journalists in Hostens.

On several houses nearby, people hung out white sheets saying: “Thank you for saving our homes” and other messages of support for the weary fire battalions.

“You’d think we’re in California, it’s gigantic… And they’re used to forest fires here but we’re being overwhelmed on all sides — nobody could have expected this,” Remy Lahlay, a firefighter deployed near Hostens in the Landes de Gascogne natural park, told AFP.

With temperatures in the region hitting nearly 40C on Thursday and forecast to stay high until at least Sunday, “there is a very serious risk of new outbreaks” for the Landiras fire, the prefecture of the Gironde department said.

Acrid smoke has spread across much of the southwestern Atlantic coast and its beaches that draw huge crowds of tourists each summer, with the regional ARS health agency “strongly” urging people to wear protective face masks.

The smoke also forced the closing of the A63 motorway, a major artery toward Spain, between Bordeaux and Bayonne.

The government has urged employers to allow leaves of absence for volunteer firefighters to help fight the fires.

Meanwhile, in Portugal, more than 1,500 firefighters were also battling a fire that has raged for days in the mountainous Serra da Estrela natural park in the centre of the country.

It has already burned 10,000 hectares, according to the European Forest Fire Information System (EFFIS).

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