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Pollution spikes in the Paris skies - what can we do?

Paris experienced a few "pics de pollution", or peak levels of air pollution, during the month of December. This is not a common occurrence here, but it does happen from time to time. And while the air pollution levels were not as high as, say, the average pollution in Beijing or other big cities, they were high enough to cause an alert in and around Paris.

What does a pollution alert mean for us as a school?

When a pollution alert is announced, the French Education Ministry advises schools on whether students should take part in physical activities inside and outside school buildings. In all cases like this, ISP will follow any guidelines sent out insofar as they relate to the area where the activities are scheduled to take place. The school also regularly consults the Airparif website, maintained by the Association de Surveillance de Qualité de l'Air (the Air Quality Monitoring Network), and makes decisions about physical activities based on the information given on the site. If the air quality is forecast to be bad or very bad, we will normally cancel an outdoor activity, unless there are clear reasons not to, and will consider cancelling indoor activities based on any other information available at the time.

Why do these peaks happen?

According to the Association de Surveillance de Qualité de l'Air, the pollution levels in Paris depend on two variables:

  • The level of pollution particles in Paris air, which is linked with traffic and heating;
  • Weather conditions, as they affect the way these particles are spread.

While pollution levels were normal or even slightly lower than average during the fall, Paris experienced the worst pollution peak in ten years in December 2016.

What does Paris do to avoid these peaks?

The city of Paris reacts quite swiftly to pollution peaks by imposing restrictions to car traffic, reducing speed limits and promoting public transport. The city is also working on long-term structures and solutions to reduce the risk of these peaks in the future. For instance, vehicles are required to have a label certifying their level of emissions, and traffic may be restricted to only low emission vehicles in certain areas or periods.

What can individuals do to cope with pollution peaks?

According to the French Health Ministry, individuals should avoid intensive sports activities, indoors and outdoors, during pollution spikes. The air quality is usually worse in the afternoon, so people with respiratory or cardiology problems, pregnant women and small children should limit the time they spend outdoors later in the day. Apart from that, the French Health Ministry does not recommend any other changes in behavior during alerts: It is quite safe to leave windows open and spend time outdoors as one would normally do.

Naturally, we all need to think about how we can personally reduce pollution through our behavior, consumer and otherwise. Working together will make it easier for everyone to breathe under Paris skies!

Useful links

Association de Surveillance de Qualité de l'Air
Ministère des affaires sociales et la santé
Certificats qualité d'air
Plume air report


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