Did Germany contribute to Paris smog?

Some Parisians are blaming Germany for the smog which last week led authorities in the French capital to ban half of all cars from the city in an attempt to cut air pollution.

Did Germany contribute to Paris smog?
Photo: DPA

Suggestions have been made that the poor air could be linked to Germany's increased use of coal power stations after Berlin decided to phase out the use of nuclear energy in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima disaster.

The major concern has been high levels of fine polluting particles, which can penetrate deep into people's lungs and are associated with a host of health problems including asthma and cancer.

Writing in the financial newspaper Les Echos this week, Didier Julienne, a specialist in natural resources, said: “On European maps of particle pollution this week, the winds from the east, coming from Germany, are heavily laden with particles."

The writer pointed to the "unfavourable environmental situation" in Germany because of the increased use of coal powered stations, especially those in the west, near the borders with France, the Netherlands and Belgium.

“Effectively Germany is smoking us out,” Julienne said, adding that the last few days could be an ominous sign of what was to come.

“For the last two weeks we were introduced to the air that risks being ours over the coming years. A kind of Chinese air," he said.

He concluded that trying to limit the use of French cars was not as useful as asking the Germans to close down their power stations.

Paris city chiefs imposed the driving curbs to try to tackle last week’s soaring pollution levels, which they said were posing a risk to the public's health. They spent €16 million making public transport free during the traffic ban.

But Germany has denied its power generation could have contributed to the bad air problem. A spokesman from the Environment Ministry told Le Figaro newspaper that although coal production had increased dramatically in recent years, but the new power stations were less polluting.

“The scenario of massive air pollution coming from Germany seems unlikely to us,” the ministry said.

A scientist from Germany’s Federal Institute for the Environment also doubted Germany was to blame for the Parisian smog and made the point that the wind blows both ways.

Air specialist Marion Wichmann-Fiebig said coal-power stations were responsible for ten percent of the emissions of the fine polluting particles.

“We are also subject to pollution coming from Poland, or even France. In one year our systems calculate that our exchanges of polluting particles are about even,” she said.

Le Monde newspaper noted a 2011 study by Airparif, which monitors air quality in France and looked at the origin of the most dangerous, PM2.5, particles in France.

The survey concluded that 51 percent of the polluting particles came from local traffic, notably the notoriously dirty ring road the Périphérique. However, it also found that 39 percent of the PM2.5 particles came from neighbouring countries.

But Airparif’s president Bernard Felix poured cold water on the idea that Germany was to blame for the pollution spike.

“The imports of fine particles from abroad are very variable depending on the wind. For two days out of three, in the Ile-de-France region, we have winds from the north-west. Winds from the east are rarer. Most of the pollution episode that we had did not come from Germany,” he said.

Ben McPartland ([email protected])

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