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Paris Imposes Measures to Fight Pollution, With Mixed Results

New York Times, 9 December 2016
Even those who love Paris have been frustrated this week by a choking haze that descended on the city, irritating residents’ eyes and throats and leading officials to limit the number of cars on the road. The authorities blame the acrid air on pollution, most of it from car exhaust and wood-burning furnaces, and a layer of warm, stagnant air that has trapped the toxic particles.

“We accumulated pollution with every day that went by, with nothing to disperse it, and in a very small volume of air,” said Amélie Fritz, a spokeswoman for Airparif, an independent organization that monitors air quality around Paris.

In an attempt to curb emissions, the authorities have banned the use of fireplaces, lowered the speed limit and restricted the number of cars allowed to operate in the city on alternating days. In an effort to further limit automobile emissions, public buses, the Métro and suburban trains have been free to ride all week. The city has also offered deals on its electric car and bicycle rentals.

The results of the restrictions have been mixed. Ms. Fritz said that twice as many people complied with an alternating car ban when it was implemented during a similar spike in pollution in March 2014.

The alternating driving ban will be lifted on Saturday, but other restrictions will stay in place, the authorities said. Meteorologists said they expected the situation to improve over the weekend owing to strong winds and fewer commuters, but warn that pollution levels could surge again next week.

Mayor Anne Hidalgo, who has pushed to limit the number of cars in the city, has been vocal about the problem. The city authorities began a social media campaign with the hashtag #StopPollution, and Ms. Hidalgo shared a picture of a blackened air filter on Facebook to show “the impact of the pollution on our lungs.”

Despite, at times, deceptively clear skies, health officials have said pollution can irritate eyes and throats, cause shortness of breath and exacerbate existing ailments like asthma or allergies.

The French Ministry of Health has recommended that young children, pregnant women and old people refrain from intense physical activity and avoid busy roadways during rush hours.

Other urban centers around the country have experienced similar pollution spikes in the past week, including in northern France, the French Alps and the Rhône Valley. In Lyon, which is expecting hundreds of thousands of visitors over the weekend for its annual Festival of Lights, the authorities on Friday imposed driving restrictions similar to those in Paris.

In Grenoble, where the local authorities recently made it mandatory for cars to display stickers indicating how polluting they are — a measure Paris will adopt next month — older models are not permitted to drive in the city on weekends.