A warning to all Parisians: Breathing can damage your health – and could possibly kill you

A mixture of good weather and stubbornly bad public policy leaves French capital in grip of worst atmospheric pollution for seven years - with public transport running for free

Paris

Avoid going outdoors in the early morning if you're in Paris. Avoid going out in the late afternoon. If you are over 65, or under five, you should stay indoors.

Do not drive. If you have to drive, drive slowly. Cancel, or reduce, all "intensive sporting activity". (Question: does that include Saturday evening's France-Ireland rugby international?)

An invisible but potentially lethal enemy assailed Paris and most of northern France on Friday - the air.

Paris is in the grip of its worst atmospheric pollution for seven years, caused by a mixture of good weather and stubbornly bad public policy.

A run of unseasonably warm, windless days and cold clear nights has clamped a lid of warm air over northern France. Under that lid, minuscule particles of pollution - partly generated by France's long love-affair with the diesel-powered car - have accumulated to dangerous levels.

The Eiffel tower and Paris roofs glimpsed through a haze of pollution The Eiffel tower and Paris roofs glimpsed through a haze of pollution (Getty) The level of official "pollution alert" - 80 microgrammes of tiny particles for every cubic metre of air - has been exceeded each day since Wednesday in 30 départements (counties) across northern France.

In an attempt to keep traffic to a minimum, all public transport has been declared free until Sunday in Paris, Rouen and Caen Even the Velib', the Parisian help-yourself, short-term-hire bikes which fathered the Boris Bikes in London, have been declared free.

Is that sensible? In the midst of one of the most intense and prolonged pollution scares northern France has ever seen, is cycling still good for your health?

With the naked eye, it was difficult yesterday to see what all the fuss was about. Paris was basking for the send week in a row in bright, near-summer weather. The daffodils were gleaming in the Tuileries gardens. Women were wearing summer dresses.

If you looked just above the roofs of the buildings, however, there was a fat, smudgy, grey layer before the sky shaded into pale blue. The Eiffel Tower, and the skyscrapers in the La Défense office ghetto west of the city, were cloaked in a faint, grey-yellow haze.

France is especially vulnerable to this kind of pollution because it is 60 per cent dependent on diesel cars. In the 1960s, French government and industry made a strategic decision that diesel engines were less polluting and would gradually supersede petrol.

Exhaust gases are partly blamed for the fine particle pollution affecting Paris and several French cities Exhaust gases are partly blamed for the fine particle pollution affecting Paris and several French cities (Getty) The French car giants, Renault and Peugeot-Citroen invested heavily in diesel engines. Diesel fuel was taxed less heavily than petrol - and still is.

For nearly two decades France has been aware that this was a terrible mistake. Diesel engines are more polluting, not less. Fumes from diesel cars, as well as industrial emissions and agricultural fertilisers, are blamed for increasing the micro-particles in the French atmosphere to potentially dangerous levels.

Successive governments have lacked the courage to steer the French car-makers away from diesel engines or to increase taxes on the diesel fuel which is used by two out of three motorists (and voters).

According to on study, there are 40,000 premature or unnecessary deaths in France each year because of the high level of atmospheric pollution. The European Commission has brought a legal action against France in the European Court of Justice for its failure to respect EU anti-pollution laws.

Corinne Lepage, environment minister from 1995 to 1997, now an independent ecological activist, said: "There has never been the political will to attack the problem. I tried to set the ball rolling with a clean air law in December 1996, which put into effect European clean air directives."

"That law has never been applied. Governments of both Left and Right have been scared of the car industry and motorists' lobbies."

Travel
travel
Arts and Entertainment
The cast of The Big Bang Theory in a still from the show
tvBig Bang Theory filming delayed by contract dispute over actors' pay
Sport
England celebrate a wicket for Moeen Ali
sportMoeen Ali stars with five wickets as Cook's men level India series
News
Morrissey pictured in 2013
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Voices
A family sit and enjoy a quiet train journey
voicesForcing us to overhear dull phone conversations is an offensive act, says Simon Kelner
News
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
Travel
travel
News
Robyn Lawley
people
News
people
News
i100  ... he was into holy war way before it was on trend
Arts and Entertainment
High-flyer: Chris Pratt in 'Guardians of the Galaxy'
filmThe film is surprisingly witty, but could do with taking itself more seriously, says Geoffrey Macnab
News
people
Life and Style
food + drinkVegetarians enjoy food as much as anyone else, writes Susan Elkin
Life and Style
lifeDon't get caught up on climaxing
Life and Style
tech
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

1st line call logger/ User access administrator

£9 Per Hour: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Warrington a...

Shine Night Walk 2014 - 'On the night' volunteer roles

Unpaid Voluntary Work : Cancer Research UK: We need motivational volunteers to...

Accounts Assistant (Accounts Payable & Accounts Receivable)

£23000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Accounts Assistant (Accounts Payable...

Senior IT Trainer - Buckinghamshire - £250 - £350 p/d

£200 - £300 per day: Ashdown Group: IT Trainer - Marlow, Buckinghamshire - £25...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star