High pollutant levels currently experienced in parts of France, Belgium and Germany are leading some areas to take urgent action to lower air pollution – for example, public transport is free in Paris over the weekend as an incentive for people to avoid car use. - Mar 14, 2014
Current concentrations of particulate matter (PM10) are
unusually high across a wide region of Western Europe. Since Wednesday almost
three quarters of France has experienced PM10 concentrations above the limit of
50 micrograms per cubic meter (daily mean), with some areas recording more than
double that level. Check the EEA’s near-real time air pollution map.
The main factor behind the current air pollution episode has
been the stable and calm weather over the past days, which prevents certain
types of air pollution from dispersing. The pollutants are emitted by a variety
of sources, including road traffic, wood-burning stoves, and at this time of
year the application of agricultural fertilisers. The current episode is
particularly high, however – in France, the last major pollution episode of
this kind was in spring 2007.
Yesterday evening the French Ministry of Ecology announced a
series of actions to reduce short-term pollution levels including free public
transport in the Paris area until Sunday in order to limit traffic emissions.
The Ministry has also reduced traffic speed limits in certain areas, introduced
controls on fertiliser spreading and advised against use of wood-burning
fireplaces (except for main heating) and burning of green waste.
Others including the Belgian authorities are also promoting
similar measures – for example reducing the speed limit in the most affected
areas. Belgium and France have some of the highest ownership rates of diesel
cars in Europe, and diesel vehicles emit higher quantities of PM10 than their
Health impacts of PM10 air pollution
Particulate matter pollution can cause or aggravate existing
cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, and long-term exposure can contribute
to heart attacks and arrhythmias, nerve problems and premature death in some
cases. During the current episode vulnerable people living in affected areas
are recommended to avoid strenuous physical activity.
How does it compare to the rest of the world?
While the current levels in Europe pose a significant risk to health, peak levels can be up to 4-5 times higher in Asian cities like Beijing.