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Atlas of Toxic France maps air, industrial, nuclear pollution

Lyon's P4 Jean Mérieux laboraotory, which houses a number of dangerous viruses for research purposes
Lyon's P4 Jean Mérieux laboraotory, which houses a number of dangerous viruses for research purposes AFP

The French city with the most polluted air is not Paris but Marseille, according to an Atlas of Toxic France published by environmental campaigners on Wednesday. But visitors to France's capital may care to know that it has the highest amount of radioactive matter, while the central city of Lyon has the worst industrial pollution.


Air pollution: Despite giving onto the sea, Marseille has the worst air pollution in France with 31.8 fine particles per cubic metre, compared to 29.5 in Lyon and 27 in Paris, according to Atlas de la France Toxique published by the Robin des Bois NGO.

In fact, the pollution comes largely from its port, as well as motorways that converge in the city, and has been made worse by the huge cruise ships that ply the Mediterranean nowadays, according to the NGO's president Jacky Bonnemans.

Paris has recently taken a number of measures to fight air pollution, including restricting access to cars on high-pollution days and making some streets, including the Champs Elysées, pedestrian-only once a month, but its lower score is at present more due to luck than planning.

Water pollution in the rivers that go through Paris, Marseille, Toulouse and Strasbourg means that fish caught in them are still not fit for consumption.

Industrial pollution: Lyon has the highest number of sites that are either contaminated or pose a risk in the case of serious accident - 68 in all, three of which in the Seveso class meaning they would pose the most danger possible if an accident took place.

The city and its surrounding region is a centre of the petrochemical industry and lead, chrome and hydrocarbons are lurking in its abandoned industrial sites.

It also houses the P4 Laboratories, which research viruses and have a collection of some of the most dangerous in the world.Marseille has 52 sites, two of them classed Seveso, while Paris has none.

Radioactive substances: Paris has 35 sites housing radioactive substances, not nuclear power stations, which are outside major towns, but medical laboratories and research institutes.

Even if they are used to cure cancers and other illnesses, the waste is less closely monitored than that from power stations, according to Bonnemans, and stay radioactive for a long time.

The capital's streets are not paved with gold but, in many cases, with toxic asbestos, the book reveals.

The NGO says that it is not trying to spread panic.

"We've produced this atlas to inform people so that they put pressure on politicians and fight industrialists," Bonnemans told l'Express magazine.

To read our coverage of the Cop21 climate change talks in Paris click here

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