What are the ten towns with the worst air pollution in France?

Residents of Brittany and Normandy were warned this week that sand particles from the Sahara desert were adding to already high pollution levels in their regions. But where are the ten towns with the worst air pollution in France?

What are the ten towns with the worst air pollution in France?
Smoke rises from the chimneys of a waste incineration plant in Saint-Ouen on the outskirts of Paris. Photo: AFP
Earlier this week locals in Brittany were ordered to reduce their speed when driving and told that outdoor sporting activities should be avoided by anyone with pre-existing health issues due to the level of pollution which had been exacerbated by sand arriving from the Sahara. 
Each year more than 500 French cities exceed the recommended concentration limit of fine particles in the air, with 48,000 deaths in France related to fine-particle air pollution each year, according to the latest report from the country's Ministry of Ecological Transition and Solidarity.
For PM2.5 particles – basically the particles of air that are the most dangerous to a person's health – the World Health Organisation (WHO) has set an upper limit of 10 micrograms of dirty air particles. If this was achieved, it would help dramatically cut the number of deaths caused by pollution.

How much has the EU done to fight pollution in France? Photo: AFP

However a total of 500 French cities exceed this concentration limits of fine particles in the air each year.
The main reasons behind this are road traffic and wood fires, with good weather and mild temperatures also playing a role in pollution peaks. 
Here are the towns and cities in France that had the worst pollution in 2018, according to a report by air quality information site AirVisual
1. Saint-Denis (Seine-Saint-Denis), 17,6 μg/m3
2. Saint-Mandé (Val-de-Marne) 16,2 μg/m3
3. Paris 15,6 μg/m3
4. Valenciennes (Nord) 15,3 μg/m3
5. Douai (Nord) 15 μg/m3
6. Roubaix (Nord) 14,9 μg/m3
7. Salaise-sur-Sanne (Isère) 14,7 μg/m3
8. Strasbourg (Bas-Rhin) 14,4 μg/m3
9. Lille (Nord) 14,3 μg/m3
10. Saint-Quentin (Aisne) 14,3 μg/m3

On a more positive note, France's Ministry of Ecological Transition and Solidarity said that “the implementation of various strategies and action plans led to an overall improvement in air quality” between 2007 and 2017, adding that pollutants are decreasing. 
French words to know
fine-particle air pollution – pollution aux particules fines
maximum speed – la vitesse maximale 
sand particles – particules de sable

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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.