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France opens criminal probe into pollution spike

The Local/AFP · 25 Mar 2014, 08:53

Published: 25 Mar 2014 08:53 GMT+01:00

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French prosecutors have opened a preliminary probe after an environmental group filed a criminal complaint over this month's spike in air pollution, a judicial source said Monday.

The complaint for "endangering others" was filed by green group Ecologie Sans Frontiere amid intense pollution this month that saw particulates in the air exceed safe levels for five straight days in Paris.

Overall, more than 30 departments in France were hit by maximum level pollution alerts, prompting Ecology Minister Philippe Martin to say air quality was "an emergency and a priority for the government".

Paris was enveloped in a murky haze, cars with even number plates were banned from city streets and public transport was provided for free as officials sought to improve air quality.

Ecologie Sans Frontiere said it was the first time such a criminal complaint had been filed.

The complaint does not specify who could be held responsible for the pollution, but the group's vice-president, Nadir Saifi, said investigators could eventually target car manufacturers or certain government offices.

“We are sick of this air pollution,” Saifi, spokesman of Ecology with Borders told France Info after lodging the complaint. "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. 

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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.

On Tuesday the World Health Organisation released figures showing that seven million people were killed around the world in 2012 due to the affects of air pollution. That's a steep rise when compared to the last WHO study in 2008 which showed 3.2 million had died from the affects of air pollution.

The Local/AFP (ben.mcpartland@thelocal.com)

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