France’s air quality has greatly improved in the past 3 decades, however like many others it is presently trying to combat air pollution levels that regularly exceed the WHO's recommended ‘safe’ limits, particularly in the capital, Paris. In the WHO’s 2016 database, France was found to have 227 towns/cities above the recommended annual mean concentration of PM2.5, and 111 locations above the safe threshold for annual mean PM10. The highest scoring cities for PM10 include Pantin, Cayenne, Fort-de-France, Coulommiers, Le Robert, La Mulatiere and Villeurbanne, each measured at 30μg/m3 or higher, against the recommended limit of 10μg/m3. Paris ranked 13th highest for PM10 concentration with 28μg/m3.
Main air pollutants in France include nitrogen oxides (NOx), volatile organic compounds (VOCs), sulphur dioxide (SO2) and ammonia (NH3). These are primarily produced through energy use and supply, agriculture, and road transport. Vehicle emissions are one of the biggest problems; high numbers of diesel vehicles contribute to significant emissions of NO2.
Concern over air pollution in Paris is on the rise, peaking recently when pollution levels in Paris were briefly shown to be “the worst in the world” during March 2015. Paris is responding with positive steps to address the pollution problem, having implemented the city’s first “car free” day in September 2015, and also enforcing some driving bans on particularly bad air days, where only drivers with odd/even license plates are permitted to drive. The city has also enforced a ban on cars registered before 1997 from July 2016; by 2020, the ban will extend to vehicles registered pre-2011.
A less obvious area experiencing bad air is l’Arve Valley, an idyllic valley including the popular ski resort Chamonix. Thousands of skiers flock annually to enjoy the beautiful mountains; the area’s air pollution problems are less visible, aggravated by the valley’s shape, vehicle emissions and nearby industry. However this area has taken drastic steps to address the problem, including making all public transport free throughout the resort.
A recent study estimates that air pollution costs France €1 billion annually in health and environmental expenses, suggesting efforts may increase to lower this cost by improving air quality.