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Cars back in Paris as pollution levels drop

Pollution levels had dropped by Monday evening
Pollution levels had dropped by Monday evening REUTERS/Charles Platiau

All cars were back on the roads in Paris and the greater Paris area on Tuesday after an improvement in air quality led the government to drop the second day of its partial car ban.

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On Monday evening, Ecology Minister Philip Martin reported that the ban had been widely respected, noting that 90 per cent of vehicles in Paris had odd-number number plates, in line with the ban on even numbers.

Nearly 700 police officers were deployed at 60 checkpoints around the French capital, infuriating motorist organisations.

"It's great, it's a fantastic decision and you are doing marvellous work," a young motorist sarcastically told the police who fined him for violating the ban.

By seven o’clock on Monday, Paris police said they had issued nearly 5,122 fines to drivers not respecting the restriction.

The government decided to implement the ban on Saturday after pollution particulates in the air exceeded safe levels for five straight days in Paris and neighbouring areas, enveloping the Eiffel Tower in a murky haze.

The issue became something of a political football, with less than a week to go before key municipal elections.

The opposition UMP candidate for Paris mayor, Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, called the measure a "fig leaf".

Others complained that another measure to discourage car traffic, the free public transport from Friday until Monday at midnight, came at a cost.

Socialist party member Jean-Paul Huchon, who is also head of the STIF organisation which oversees transport in Paris and neighbouring areas, said STIF could lose 4 million euros per day.

In Paris, authorities measure the concentration of particulates with a diameter of less than 10 microns, so-called PM10, in the air to determine pollution levels.

PM10 are created by vehicles, heating and heavy industry, and include the most dangerous particles that measure less than 2.5 microns in diameter, which can penetrate deep into the lungs and the blood system and are cancer-causing.

The safe limit for PM10 is set at 80 microgrammes per cubic metre (mcg/m3).

At its peak last week, Paris hit a high of 180 mcg/m3 but this had fallen to 75 mcg/m3 by Monday.

According to a 2011 World Health Organisation report, the planet's most polluted city was Ahvaz in Iran with an average of 372 microgrammes per cubic metre.
 

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