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Paris pollution │© Damián Bakarcic / Flickr
Paris pollution │© Damián Bakarcic / Flickr
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Parisian Woman Is Suing French Government Over Air Pollution

Picture of Paul McQueen
Updated: 13 June 2017
The impending court case between 56-year-old yoga instructor Clotilde Nonnez and Emmanuel Macron’s newly formed government brings Paris’ ongoing battle with hazy skies into sharp focus. Last December’s unexpected spike in pollution levels, and the onset of what looks to be another hot, dry and windless summer, should also put residents and tourists alike on high alert.

The case

The central argument of Nonnez’s landmark case is that the government has failed to protect her from the effects of air pollution. A Parisian for more than three decades, one with an active lifestyle including a career as a dancer and yoga teacher, she has experienced a steady decline in her well-being.

Courtroom of the Hôtel d'Aumont, tribunal administratif de Paris│© Ray9 / Wikimedia Commons
Courtroom of the Hôtel d’Aumont, tribunal administratif de Paris│ | © Ray9 / Wikimedia Commons

Her chronic respiratory problems, ranging from asthma to pneumonia, came to a head in December 2016 when pollutant levels reached a 10-year peak. An acute pericarditis attack – an inflammation of the thin saclike membrane surrounding the heart – left her hospitalized.

‘We are taking the state to task because we think the medical problems that pollution victims suffer are a result of the authorities’ lack of action in tackling air pollution,’ her attorney François Lafforgue told Le Monde. He will be seeking €140,000 in damages on behalf of his client, caused by what he terms ‘culpable incompetence.’

Nonnez is just the first in a series of plaintiffs. Thirty more are expected to come forward in Paris and cases are on the horizon for the judiciaries of Lille and Lyon.

The problem

There’s no hiding the air pollution problem in Paris: the Eiffel Tower, the city’s most famous monument, is regularly shrouded in smog during warm periods of low rainfall. Trouble breathing and stale air are also common complaints of people living in and visiting the capital.

The Eiffel Tower as seen from Montmartre in December 2016 │© Tangopaso / Wikimedia Commons
The Eiffel Tower as seen from Montmartre in December 2016 │ | © Tangopaso / Wikimedia Commons

However the problem extends beyond Paris. A shocking June 2016 study by France’s public health authority found that poor air quality was responsible for an estimated 48,000 deaths per year. The State of Global Air report for 2017 put 2015 figures across the European Union at 257,500, and in the United States at 88,400. Globally, 4,241,100 people were thought to have died prematurely, the majority in China and India, where figures were 1,108,100 and 1,090,400 respectively.

The solutions

Cars have been pinpointed as the main culprit of Paris’ pollution problem. Since January 2017, measures such as the Crit’Air sticker initiative have been introduced to reduce the presence of high-polluting vehicles on the roads. When levels do peak, an alternating odd-even license plate scheme also effectively halves the number of cars permitted to enter the city every day.

A silver lining to the noxious clouds for residents and travelers is that, during these periods, all forms of public transport, including the bicycle and electric car rental schemes, are free.

Paris Velib’ station │© Mauro Parra-Miranda / Wikimedia Commons
Paris Velib’ station │ | © Mauro Parra-Miranda / Wikimedia Commons

Significant portions of the city have also been temporarily or permanently pedestrianized. The newly opened Parc Rives de Seine, once a highway along the riverbanks, came after 15 years of campaigning. Parts of the Canal Saint-Martin, the Marais, and the two outlying parks also go car-free on Sundays, as does the Champs-Élysées once a month.

While poor air quality can’t necessarily be avoided, there are plenty of ways for travelers to enjoy ecotourism in Paris. The range of possibilities is particularly strong when it comes to eating out but music lovers can also party responsibly with the city’s environmentally friendly festival, We Love Green, which is usually held in June.