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POLLUTION

Pollution: Paris imposes driving restrictions for third day, but do they work?

Paris enforced driving restrictions for a third day on Thursday as the pollution levels stay stubbornly high. But does it work?

Pollution: Paris imposes driving restrictions for third day, but do they work?
The pollution in Paris right now is the worst it has been in a decade, and public transport has been free since Tuesday.
 
The pollution level will still be high on Thursday, with authorities announcing that there will be a third consecutive day of travel restrictions. Only vehicles with even-numbered registration plates will be allowed on the road, or the drivers will face fines. 
 
The rule has been in place since Tuesday, alternating between odd and even plates.
 
This is only the fourth time Paris has resorted to traffic restrictions to cope with air pollution. The region's officials took similar measures in 1997, 2014 and 2015.
 
But does this system actually work?
 
The immediate answer would appear to be no, considering the pollution levels actually got worse on Wednesday after a day of supposedly halved traffic. 
 
One major problem is that many motorists apparently ignore the rule. On Tuesday alone, police gave out 1,700 fines for those flouting the rules – and that's only the ones they caught.
 
It's fair to imagine that many more motorists were out on the roads and simply managed to avoid being ticketed. 
 
 
The second major argument against the system is that the restrictions do nothing to target the most polluting vehicles.
   
A parliamentary report has questioned the efficacy of the restrictions, and it's likely to find that there are better options on hand. 
 
Luckily, the current system won't be around for long. Paris has taken steps to ease pollution including introducing a obligatory new system of stickers to highlight the most polluting vehicles.
 
Drives of those vehicles will have to leave them at home during future pollution spikes or face financial penalties. The system will be brought in in January.
 
The Greens candidate in next year's presidential election, Yannick Jadot, said politicians needed to target the most polluting vehicles and restrict the use of diesel engines.
   
“We have politicians who tell us they are looking after our health,” Jadot said. “The reality is that when they have to choose between traffic, diesel and our health, unfortunately they don't choose our health.”
 
Measures are also already in place to phase out diesel engines in buses in the capital.
 
So why the pollution?
 
The surge in pollution has been driven by cold weather and near windless conditions that have trapped exhaust fumes, smoke from wood fires and other pollutants, according to the French capital's AirParif air monitoring service.
   
Although bad by Paris standards, current levels of fine airborne particles, or PM10, are around 60 percent of those in Beijing and a fraction of readings in New Delhi, the world's most polluted capital.
  
For more than a week now, the PM10 readings have been at dangerously high levels of over 80 microgrammes per cubic metre of air particles, reaching 146
microgrammes/m3 last Thursday.
   
Other parts of France are also being choked by smog.
   
Officials in the southeast Rhone valley region said they would introduce measures to restrict car use from Friday to combat the problem in the city of Lyon.
 
 

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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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