Areas of France on alert for air pollution spike as heatwave continues

Parts of France are taking measures to combat a rise in pollution seen in several areas of the country as a result of the scorching summer temperatures.

Areas of France on alert for air pollution spike as heatwave continues
Photo: AFP
Several areas in the south and south west have been placed on alert for pollution while other regions such as the greater Paris region of Ile-de-France are also taking measures to deal with the spike in dirty air. 
The rise in pollution is a result of the rising mercury seen across the country in recent days which had led to 18 departments being placed on heatwave alert on Wednesday and low wind levels.
In Paris, which is currently on heatwave alert, any vehicles with a level 4 or 5 sticker on the recently introduced system will be banned from all roads inside the A86 motorway, the second ring road around Paris and, if the conditions continue, the other vehicles may also have restricted use.
Level 4 vehicles are those with diesel engines from 2001 to 2005 (Euro 3) and level 5 vehicles are those with diesel engines from 1997 to 2000 (Euro 2).
Photo: AFP
City authorities have also reduced the speed limit by 20 km/h ( for example making it 110 km/h instead of 130km/h on the motorway) and factories emitting pollutants must also reduce the operation of their facilities while all companies are advised to consider letting their employees work from home. 
Transport authority Île-de-France Mobilites have set up an “anti-pollution” fare which allows people to travel across the Ile-de-France region for just €3.80 in a bid to encourage the use of public transport rather than personal vehicles. 
The Var and Bouches-du-Rhone departments in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur region of southeastern France, the departments of Haute-Garonne, where France's 'Pink City' Toulouse is most at risk, and Herault in the south, were placed on alert for pollution on Wednesday.
Photo: AFP
Pollution levels were particularly bad in the Gard department of the south. 
Among the measures taken as a result of these alerts include the lowering of speed limits by 20km/h on roads in the Bouches-du-Rhone department (as long as this doesn't take the speed limit below 70 km/h) and police are ensuring that motorists are complying with speed limits. 
People in highly polluted areas have been advised to “reduce physical activity and avoid intense outdoor sports” as well as to “limit private and business travel and the use of motor vehicles by favoring ridesharing and public transport” in order to help improve air quality. 
The authorities have advised “postponing travel” and walking or cycling instead of using vehicles. 
Speed limits were also reduced by 20km/h (with a minimum speed limit of 70km/h) on main roads in the northeastern areas of Alsace and Lorraine on Thursday in the Haut-Rhin, Bas-Rhin, Moselle, Meuse and Meurthe-et-Moselle departments due to a pollution warning.
“This episode of pollution is of the type we see in summer which means it is related to the ozone,” said ATMO Grand Est, an organisation responsible for monitoring air quality. 

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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.