Smog-Covered Paris Offers Free Public Transportation In Bid To Reduce Pollution

CREDIT: AP Photo/Jacques Brinon

The Eiffel Tower, is barely seen through the smog from Paris, Friday, March 14, 2014. Air pollution that has turned Paris skies a murky yellow is giving a break to millions of French travelers ó all public transportation in the Paris region and two other cities is free for the next three days. Nearly three-quarters of France is under alert in what the European Environment Agency says is the worst air pollution since 2007.

Unseasonably warm weather and too much dangerous pollution have led to some drastic response measures in Europe this weekend.

In a bid to cut down on smog, Parisians don’t have to pay a thing to take public transportation, as recent shocking levels of air pollution have left the City of Lights looking like Beijing or Shanghai. Paris police lowered the speed limit and asked people not to burn wood in fireplaces. Authorities asked factories and trucks with heavy loads to reduce activity. Free bus and subway rides began on Friday morning, and are scheduled to end on Sunday.

“Public transportation” in Paris does not just mean subways and buses. Paris has two bike- and electric car-sharing systems that are free this weekend, which have grown popular in recent years.

On Friday, the Air Quality Index hit 185 in Paris, similar to levels in Beijing. On Saturday, air pollution levels seemed to have dropped in Paris and London, though Lyon was still in the red.

The French Health Ministry warned the elderly, children, pregnant women, and those with difficulty breathing were especially at risk during the days-long “maximum pollution alert.”

A city electronic board reads "Pollution, we recommend to children and sensitive people not to practice any sports activity", Friday March 14, 2014 in Paris.

A city electronic board reads “Pollution, we recommend to children and sensitive people not to practice any sports activity”, Friday March 14, 2014 in Paris.

CREDIT: AP Photo/Jacques Brinon

The smog stretched from France’s Atlantic coast through Belgium, and well into Germany. Authorities warned Greater London that pollution monitors hit a 10 out of 10 — “very high” — due to pollution blowing in from the continent, and a high pressure system trapping stale air in the city.

In addition to high pressure air, warmer weather in Europe has also caused pollution levels to spike. While parts of the continental U.S. got hit with cold Arctic air this month, much of continental Europe recorded higher-than-average temperatures leading to potentially one of the warmest winters in 250 years, according to meteorologist Volker Ermert from the Institute of Geophysics and Meteorology at the University of Cologne.

This warm weather has led to sunny days, little wind, and still-colder nights — all of which combine to keep polluted air from circulating. The combination creates a temperature inversion that keeps the pollutants close to the ground instead of lifting off into the atmosphere. A high number of diesel-fueled vehicles in France also causes a type of pollution that helps cause this particular type of smog.

Late last year, the World Health Organization’s cancer agency announced it had sufficient evidence to classify outdoor air pollution as “carcinogenic to humans.” Particulate matter is a major component of outdoor air pollution and is also known to cause cancer — mainly lung cancer but also bladder cancer.