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POLLUTION

Paris: New plan to avoid repeat of pollution crisis

The city of Paris, which in March had to impose a temporary ban on cars when air pollution levels grew dangerously high, is drawing up a five-point action plan to avoid a repeat of the crisis. Environmental groups have welcomed the measures.

Paris: New plan to avoid repeat of pollution crisis
A plan has been launched to try to prevent a repeat of the soaring pollution levels that hit Paris earlier this year. Photo: Stefan de Vries/Twitter
The five-point plan, to be presented to the city council next week, includes making public transport free when pollutions levels rise to levels deemed a risk to people’s health.  
The city implemented that measure in March, at a cost of around €4 million a day, but was criticised for waiting too long before doing so.
 
It also later banned half the city’s cars for a couple of days, but again was accused of doing too little too late.
 
The new action plan also includes various measures to encourage commuters to leave their vehicles at home.
 
The level of official “pollution alert” is currently at 80 microgrammes of tiny particles for every cubic metre of air, but the new action plan calls for measures to be taken as soon as it goes beyond 50 microgrammes.
 
Residential parking should be made free as soon as this level is reached, and on the second day of levels above 50 microgrammes the city’s municipal bicycle and car rental schemes should be made free for the duration, the report urges.
 
Paris will also seek to pressure the city transport authorities to stop using buses running on diesel.
 
Parisians will also be encouraged to switch from diesel to petrol-run cars, which are seen as less polluting. If the city council adopts the proposed measures, drivers switching vehicles will be given a year’s free commuting on public transport.
 
Finally, the city will look at the feasibility of creating low-emission zones where highly polluting vehicles are restricted or banned altogether.
 
The environmental group Ecologie Sans Frontière, which filed a criminal complaint for "endangering others" over the pollution spike in March, welcomed the proposed measures.
 
“Things are going in the right direction,” the group’s president Franck Laval told The Local, adding that it was partly due to his criminal complaint that Paris authorities had started taking action.
 
But he said banning cars from the streets using the system employed in March, which blocked odd-number licence plates one day and even the next was “discriminatory”, as it did not prevent heavily-polluting vehicles taking to the streets.
 
A better system, he said, would be to evaluate the “greenness” of individual cars and in crisis periods ban only the most polluting ones. France’s green party on Monday presented a law proposal in the national parliament that would see the gradual reduction of diesel use in the country.
 
Environmental groups blame successive French governments for promoting the use of diesel vehicles – which are used by two thirds of French motorists and are more polluting than petrol cars – via tax breaks that are still in place.
 
by Rory Mulholland

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POLLUTION

Paris faces legal claim over lead pollution from Notre-Dame fire

Paris authorities have been accused of failing to safeguard the health of people living near Notre-Dame cathedral due to lead pollution from a devastating fire two years ago.

Paris faces legal claim over lead pollution from Notre-Dame fire
A complaint has been lodged over lead pollution in Paris from the devastating fire at Notre Dame cathedral Photo: Fabien Barrau | AFP

Local families along with the Paris branch of the CGT trade union and the anti-pollution association Henri Pezerat, have filed the legal complaint alleging city and public health authorities endangered lives.

“Despite the scale of the fire and knowledge about the risk of pollution and contamination… no precaution in particular was taken by the authorities involved for more than three months after the fire,” according to a copy of the complaint seen by AFP.

It says 400 tonnes of lead from the roof of the Gothic masterpiece melted or were dispersed as microparticles over the French capital during the blaze on April 15, 2019.

“Children (in crèches and schools), neighbours and workers have clearly been exposed to the risk of lead” pollution, the complaint adds. “These facts amount to the crime of endangering the lives of others.”

The square in front of the cathedral was closed again to the public in May this year after tests revealed high concentrations of toxic lead particles.

Several months after the fire, city authorities ordered a deep-clean of schools in the area, while children and pregnant women were urged to have blood tests.

The complaint says the city withheld information from school directors and failed to act promptly. It also targets the police department, the culture ministry and regional health authorities.

The efforts of firefighters ensured the great medieval edifice survived the fire despite the collapse of the spire and much of the roof being destroyed.

But the lead risks delayed work on clearing debris and launching the restoration effort for the landmark, which President Emmanuel Macron wants open for visitors in time for the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris.

Investigators have yet to determine the cause of the blaze, but they have said an accident, possibly caused by a short circuit or discarded cigarette butt, remains the most likely explanation.

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