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    Posted March 17, 2014 by

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    Pollution in Paris: A drastic restriction in hopes of a drastic reduction

    Several regions in France including the French capital, Paris, reached hazardous levels of particulate matter (PM) in the air this weekend. The French government, hoping to decrease the number of drivers, declared that public transportation would be free. This included subways, buses, trains, public bikes and one-hour sessions in electric cars. Several other cities in northern France such as Caen, Reims and Rouen took similar measures and offered free transport as well.

    What sparked this decision was the rise in pollution level to 180 micrograms of PM10 particles per cubic meter on Friday. This level was more than double Paris’ normal level of 80 micrograms per cubic meter—a level deemed moderate in the air quality index. Additionally, the particles of pollutant, mostly emitted by vehicle exhaust fumes, were exacerbated by the recent warm weather, which caused the particles to become trapped under a warm layer of air.

    High PM levels are a big concern to public health because they can, not only exacerbate respiratory ailments, but also cause various respiratory problems such as asthma and allergies. Research has shown that when PM levels reach between 150 and 200 micrograms, the air quality is considered to be unhealthy. During these levels, people with respiratory diseases should avoid outdoor activities and everyone else, especially children, should limit prolonged outdoor exertion.

    Paris has been known to be more prone to smog than other European capitals due to France’s diesel subsidies and its high dependency on diesel cars. These two characteristics are results of France’s decision taken in the 1960s to invest heavily in diesel engines and to less heavily tax diesel fuel than petrol. Years later, when diesel engines were found to be more polluting, France realized that its decision was a mistake.

    To this day, France suffers the consequences of this decision. Even after the weekend ended, the pollution level in Paris was still high enough for authorities to take even more serious measures by putting in place the most drastic restriction on cars in 20 years (the last driving restriction took place in 1997 and lasted one day). This restriction, referred to as the alternate car ban, bans cars with even-numbered registration plates from driving on Monday and, if the restrictions were to remain in place, bans cars with odd-numbered registration plates from driving on Tuesday. Approximately 700 police were deployed at various key locations in Paris in order to enforce this restriction. Drivers who did not adhere to this restriction were immediately fined 22 euros.

    The alternate car ban sparked controversy as some complained that it was an overreaction that would cause difficulties for commuters. Others have voiced support for the ban saying that driving restrictions have worked in the past to reduce air pollution.

    Overreaction or not, the prime minister declared on Monday that the alternate car ban would not be in effect on Tuesday due to results from Monday that showed an overall decrease in pollution levels. The most drastic restriction on cars in 20 years lasted again, for one day.
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