Charges were also waived for the city's pioneering cycle and
electric car-sharing schemes this week as a visible haze hung over
the streets of the French capital.
European Environment Agency (EEA) figures for Thursday showed there
was 147 micrograms of particulate matter (PM) per cubic meter of air
in Paris compared with 114 in Brussels, 104 in Amsterdam, 81 in
Berlin and 79.7 in London.
Background pollution — the outdoor air quality experienced by the
average citizen — topped the 100 maximum measurable index level in
Paris on Thursday, data from pollution watchdog airqualitynow.eu
showed, making the French capital the only European capital in the
"very high" level zone. The index stood at 81 in London, 76 in
Berlin and 61 in Madrid.
Paris is traditionally more susceptible to poor air quality than
other main western European capitals, with only Athens scoring worse
according to World Health Organization (WHO) annual averages
collected in 2008.
Fiscal support for diesel over gasoline in motor vehicles and heavy
private vehicle traffic have been cited as causes.
The near-absence of wind and temperatures about 10 degrees Celsius
above seasonal averages were also a factor this time, according to
Meteo France data.
EU environment officials noted that pollution hotspots elsewhere in
the world are far worse.
"While the current levels in Europe do pose a significant risk to
health, peak levels can be up to 4-5 times higher in Asian cities
like Beijing," an EEA spokesman told Reuters.
"Nevertheless, the levels of PM pollution encountered in the
currently affected European regions would also be classified as
pollution episodes in Asian cities," he said.
Three environmental groups worried over the recurring spikes in
French air pollution this week filed a lawsuit "against x" — where
the person or body deemed responsible is difficult to ascertain — for "endangering the lives of others."
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"We know pollution causes deaths. Emergency departments are full of
people with breathing problems, that's why we decided to file a
complaint," said Nadir Saifi, a member of Ecology Without Borders,
one of the groups filing the suit.
RUSH TO BIKES, ELECTRIC CARS
City of Paris officials argue the situation would be much worse had
the government not introduced the popular bike- and car-sharing
schemes now being replicated in cities such as London.
The use of Autolib cars had jumped by 46 percent on Thursday
compared to the week before, Paris transport councilor Julien
Bargeton said, while Velib cycle use had risen by 72 percent.
Charges for these services and buses, underground trains and other
forms of transport will remain free over the weekend.
Speed limits were also reduced by 20 kilometers an hour and
authorities in the Ile-de-France region around Paris took all but
the most essential public vehicles off the roads.
Warnings from authorities to avoid physical exertions did not deter
Parisians from enjoying the warm weather, however.
"My lungs are already polluted by cigarettes, so I don't really
care," Sophie Boisseau, 29, told Reuters at the terrace of the
Biscornu cafe near the stock exchange in central Paris.
(Additional reporting by Gregory Blachier and Thierry Chiarello in
Paris; editing by Andrew Callus and Mark John)
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