French environmental quality reviewed

Official report highlights problems with agricultural nitrate pollution, urban air quality

France is making slow progress in tackling some of its most serious ecological problems, a report by the country's official environmental statistics agency revealed yesterday. In its annual review of environmental quality in France, the French Environment Institute (IFEN) highlights a range of issues where improvements are needed.

One of the biggest problems identified is water pollution by nitrates. According to the study, it is on the increase in over two-thirds of the country, and parts of northern France are particular black spots. Intensive animal farming is common in the region and waste from intensively farmed pigs and cows is by far the biggest single cause of nitrate pollution.

France, along with several other European Union member states, has already been warned by the European Commission to improve its record on nitrate pollution or face possible legal action at the European Court of Justice (ENDS Daily 7 April).

The IFEN report also said air quality in many the country's towns and cities needed to be improved, with particular problems noted in Fos-Berre, Lille, Lyon, Marseille and Strasbourg.

When it comes to disposing of household waste, France needs to make progress if it wants to match up to the standards of some of its 'greener' EU partners, the report shows. While around 71% of all old paper and cardboard is recycled in Austria and Germany, the figure is under 42% in France.

Elsewhere in the report, IFEN warns that the country's wetlands and other natural sites are under threat from "creeping urbanisation," fuelled in recent years by the construction of many out-of-town shopping centres. In 1970 some 600,000 hectares of wetland were drained to make way for new buildings. By 1995 that figure had risen to 2.54m hectares.

French environment minister Dominique Voynet stressed that the report did not show France to be a "bad student" of the environment in Europe. "I don't have the impression that there are fewer problems with nitrates in countries with similar agricultural systems to us," she told ENDS Daily, "and I don't accept that there is less noise or pollution in the other major European cities than here."

However the minister did concede that improvements were needed in several environmental policy areas. She said basic data on the environment were often hard to obtain or incomplete. She also stressed the need for environmental considerations to be taken into account by all government departments. Furthering this objective, a government committee is shortly to start work to look at economic aspects of environmental policy.

Follow Up:
French environment ministry, tel: +33 1 42 19 20 21; IFEN, tel: +33 2 38 79 78 78. References: "L'environnement en France - Edition 1999," available from IFEN (a summary is posted on the IFEN web site).

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