Paris without a car, cleaner air?

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By Fabien Humbert

‘Paris Respire’, established in 2015, also called ‘Car Free Day’, consists of closing certain districts of the capital to polluting cars and two-wheeled vehicles for almost one day a year. This is particularly the “centre”, which covers the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th arrondissements, but also the Champs-Élysées (these areas are also closed once a month to road traffic) and the districts of Montmartre, Commerce, Mouffetard, Aligre, the Canal Saint-Martin or even the Bois de Vincennes and Boulogne.

Each time you must show your credentials to be able to enter by car or two-wheeler in these areas monitored by agents from Paris City Hall and the police and protected by reinforced barriers. As a result, the mayor of Paris announced that a 40% decrease in road traffic had been observed. But what about air pollution?

Encouraging results

As in previous years, Airparif measured the level of atmospheric pollution during the operation and compared it to an average Sunday. In 2021, a decrease of around -20% was found in the concentration of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) averaged over all measuring stations in Paris, compared to a reference Sunday between 11 a.m. and 6 p.m. During the 2022 edition, which was held on Sunday 18 September, observed NO2 concentrations were again almost 20% lower than on a typical Sunday (between 10:00 and 17:00). Remember that nitrogen dioxide is a pollutant gas mainly emitted by road traffic in Ile-de-France and has an impact on the respiratory system.

“Decreases in the concentration of PM10 particles and PM2.5 fine particles have also been observed, but they are less significant than for nitrogen dioxide because the sources responsible for this pollution are more diverse.”

This decrease is particularly marked along the main thoroughfares. Compared to a typical Sunday, the most significant decrease was thus recorded along the Quai des Célestins, between Pont Marie and Sully-Morland in the 4th arrondissement (-30%). Across Paris, the maximum improvement in air quality was observed between 13:00 and 14:00, with an average decrease in NO2 concentrations of over -30%. “There are also observed decreases in the concentration of PM10 particles and PM2.5 fine particles along the major traffic routes, but they are less significant than for nitrogen dioxide because the sources responsible for this pollution are more diverse, explains Antoine Trouche for Airparif. In addition to road traffic, there are industrial, agricultural, construction and heating activities. On average over a year, the latter represent 35% of particulate emissions into the air, and wood burning is responsible for 85% of these. The encouraging figures that is registered thanks to the car-free day, must therefore be qualified with regard to the pollution from heating.

In Ile-de-France, 8,000 deaths per year are linked to air pollution

According to the study carried out by the Ile-de-France Regional Health Observatory (ORS) and Airparif, premature deaths in the Ile-de-France region in 2019 linked to exposure to fine particles (PM 2.5) were estimated at 6,220; 3,680 premature deaths were due to prolonged exposure to nitrogen dioxide. It should be noted that some of the deaths are associated with both types of exposure. In total, air pollution would cause the death of just under 8,000 people each year in Ile-de-France alone, while every inhabitant of the region over the age of 30 loses 8 months of hope for life. “However, this mortality is decreasing: it was 10,000 per year in 2010 compared to 6,220 in 2019 with regard to fine particles,” clarifies Antoine Trouche. In fact, the levels of fine particles and nitrogen dioxide decrease. Only ozone sees its share increase in the atmosphere.”

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