With no relief in sight from the high pollution levels being recorded in northern France, Paris transport authorities have announced that travellers can ride for free starting on Friday and through the weekend due to "health risks".
Jean-Paul Huchon, the head of the organisation that oversees transport in Paris and areas neighbouring the capital, said transport would be free from Friday morning to Sunday evening due to the "significant risks to the health of residents".
Municipalities often recommend increasing the use of public transport as a way to cut down on the pollution produced by private cars.
Paris and much of northern France have been at the maximum alert level for several days after an extended period of cool, dry nights with much warmer daytime temperatures – climactic conditions that do not allow pollutant particles to disperse.
The maximum threshold is likely to be exceeded for a fourth consecutive day in the Paris region on Friday, according to the Airparif Association, an environmental body responsible for monitoring air quality.
Regional monitoring centres have registered a high atmospheric concentration of PM10 particles, those with a diameter of less than 10 microns.
France’s pollution alerts include government recommendations to reduce driving speeds, avoid intense physical activity and outdoor walks with children under 6 years of age, and a prohibition against lighting fires outside.
Pollution in Lower Normandy has reached record levels, according to director Christophe Legrand of Air COM, the association responsible for monitoring air quality in the region.
Legrand said that home heating, warm soil, agricultural spraying and gardeners illegally burning their springtime garden waste may be to for the spike in polluting particles.
The particles can cause asthma, allergies and respiratory or cardiovascular disease. The finest of them (less than 2.5 microns in diameter), which can penetrate the deeper respiratory tract and can affect the blood, have been classified as "carcinogens" by the World Health Organisation.
Because of its frequent breach of European Union limits on particulate matter in the atmosphere, France faces sanction by the EU and could be hit with fines running into the tens of millions of euros.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)