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Air Pollution Leads To Crackdown On Cars In Paris

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

In Paris, a week of high pollution levels have prompted officials to crack down on driving. The mayor is not only doing that but also making public transport free in an effort to reduce pollution. Here's NPR's Eleanor Beardsley.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: I'm in the Paris metro at the Republique station. All the metros have been free for three days this week and the busses because the city really wants people to take public transportation and stay out of their cars. Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo is trying to cut the number of cars on the road in half. On alternating days this week, cars with even and odd-numbered plates have been banned from the city.

Romain Lacombe heads Plume Labs, a company that forecasts pollution levels in urban areas.

ROMAIN LACOMBE: It is indeed one of the most high air pollution episodes over the past 10 years in Paris and actually across that part of northern Europe.

BEARDSLEY: Lacombe says Paris pollution consists of fine particles mostly from residential heating and cars. He says the situation is compounded by a weather phenomenon known as inversion where warmer, heavier air keeps colder air and pollution trapped on the ground.

Lacombe says the microscopic pollution particles are particularly dangerous because they can pass from the lungs into the bloodstream and their concentration in the air since Monday has been above the maximum hourly exposure levels recommended by the World Health Organization.

LACOMBE: That means you shouldn't breathe air at that level of pollution for more than an hour without some potential impact on your health. That's why it is not only an environmental concern but also a health concern.

BEARDSLEY: These 10-year-olds were unable to play soccer after the French education minister cancelled outdoor sporting activities in several cities. Johnny Sousa is the kids' coach.

JOHNNY SOUSA: It's three days. It's happening. We have to take measures about that and think what's happening with the kids. I think it was a good decision.

BEARDSLEY: Experts say diesel fuel much more than gasoline emits small particle pollution into the air. In France and other European countries, more than 65 percent of cars run on diesel. Four world capitals, Paris, Madrid, Athens and Mexico City recently said they plan to ban diesel cars by 2025. Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.