French minister gets tough on air pollution

Voynet warns after study shows strong links between urban air pollution, human health

On Wednesday, the results of an in-depth epidemiological survey conducted by the Paris regional health observatory (ORS) were made public at a conference jointly organised by the French ministries of environment and health and ORS. The survey was part of the ERPURS programme (evaluation of the risks of urban pollution on health) and spanned the period 1991-1995. The results clearly point to short-term links between different pollutants (sulphur dioxide, suspended particulates, nitrogen dioxide, ozone) and human health.

During the conference, environment minister Dominique Voynet emphasised the importance of preventive measures to step up action to reduce air pollution focusing on three priority areas: the need to increase knowledge of pollutant emissions and air quality, to improve legislative measures and to increase knowledge of the effects of air pollution on the environment and human health.

Ms Voynet stated that the air quality monitoring networks needed to be improved and extended to ensure greater geographical coverage, as required under the 1996 Air Act and that the public must be informed on air quality using all modern media, including the Internet. She also said she hoped that pollutants for which there is so far no legal measuring requirement, namely benzene and very fine particles, would be taken into account in the future.

Ms Voynet indicated that she would be keeping a close eye on the drafting and implementation of the urban journey plans required under the 1996 Air Act as these were effective tools to reduce vehicle traffic in city centres and encourage the development of public transport networks, cycling and walking.

In addition, Ms Voynet insisted on the need to revise the tax system on fuel in order to take into account environmental protection requirements more effectively. Currently, significant tax differentials exist in favour of diesel, making it considerably cheaper than unleaded petrol and thereby providing an incentive for consumers to opt for diesel-engined vehicles. "I have every reason to believe that [this situation] encourages over-consumption [of diesel] ," she said.

With regard to the effects of air pollution on human health, Ms Voynet stated that she had requested prime minister Lionel Jospin to set up an interministerial health and environment committee to assess and monitor the issue at stake.

Follow Up:
French environment ministry, tel: +33 1 42 19 20 21; ORS, tel +33 1 44 42 64 70.

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