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France

French government must take urgent action on air pollution - NGOs

media A view from the AirParif Generali balloon shows the Eiffel Tower through a small-particle haze as air pollution levels rise in Paris, France, January 23, 2017. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer

As France marks its 5th National air quality day, several branches of environmental NGOs such as WWF and Greenpeace are calling for the government to take urgent action, particularly with regards to diesel emissions.

In an open letter published on France Info public radio website, the directors of Unicef France, WWF France, Greenpeace France, and a network of over 20 other climate action associations berated the French government for its record on dealing with air pollution and said urgent action must be taken.

Scientific studies have concluded that air pollution has serious consequences on health in general, in particular for children; asthma, allergies, skin problems, problems related to the immune system, diabetes, obesity and depression to name a few.

On a national level, the organisations said France's dependence on car use must be curbed. Ordinary and low income consumers must be given financial incentives to buy less polluting vehicles and more public funding should be dedicated to the development of public transport and the use of bicycles on a grand scale.

Across the country, the transport sector is responsible for 57 percent of nitrogen dioxide emissions and 15 percent of small particles, mainly due to the large number of diesel cars in France.

In France, three out of four children are breathing toxic air, according to the World Health Organisation.

In Paris, 27 percent of establishments which accommodate for people deemed to be sensitive to air pollution (schools, day care centres and hospitals) are regularly exposed to pollution levels considered over the recommended European levels.

In Marseille for example, one school out of two is affected by unsafe levels of air pollution, according to Greenpeace.

To mark the national day for air quality, Paris's town hall launched an interactive online map on Tuesday, which shows air pollution levels across the city in real time.

The data is collected by the company Airparif and a system known as Pollutrack. 

Around 400 vehicles are equipped with sensors that pick up information all day and all night.

There are some 300 vehicles operated by the company Enedis and 100 operated by Marcel.

"This is a very positive thing", a spokesperson for the association Respire (Breathe) told France Info radio.

"The more information is available, the more people will act for the environment."

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