Mother, daugh­ter sue France over ill health from air pol­lu­tion

Daily Mirror (Sri Lanka) - - FOREIGN -

(Bo­bigny) AFP: A Paris court yes­ter­day be­gan hear­ing a case brought by a mother and daugh­ter who, in a le­gal first in France, are su­ing the State for dam­ages over ill health caused by air pol­lu­tion.

The mother and the daugh­ter are ask­ing for 160,000 eu­ros (US$179,000) in dam­ages from the state at the ad­min­is­tra­tive court of Mon­treuil in the east of Paris.

They ar­gue the au­thor­i­ties did not take ef­fec­tive mea­sures against at­mo­spheric pol­lu­tion, in par­tic­u­lar dur­ing the very high pol­lu­tion that Paris en­dured in De­cem­ber 2016.

The pair say this had an ef­fect on their health, espe­cially as they were liv­ing at the time in the north­ern Paris sub­urb of Sain­touen, just out­side the clogged pe­riph­erique ring road.

The pe­riph­erique opened in 1973 takes 1.1 mil­lion driv­ers a day but is also a night­mare for the 100,000 peo­ple liv­ing around it.

Both say they de­vel­oped res­pi­ra­tory prob­lems that were ac­cen­tu­ated dur­ing pol­lu­tion peaks. The mother, 52, has had to take time off work and the daugh­ter, 16, suf­fered asthma crises.

They have since moved to the city of Or­leans on doc­tors’ ad­vice and their health has im­proved con­sid­er­ably, says lawyer Fran­cois Laf­forgue.

Their le­gal team ar­gues that French au­thor­i­ties failed to im­ple­ment rules to bet­ter pro­tect the pop­u­la­tion, did not use all the mea­sures at their dis­posal and did not prop­erly en­force mea­sures when agreed.

In to­tal, around 50 peo­ple across France are tak­ing sim­i­lar ac­tions against the French state, said Se­bastien Vray, the founder of the NGO Re­spire, which as­sists the cases of the plain­tiffs.

He said the fact the case has come to court is al­ready a vic­tory. “When I founded Re­spire eight years ago I had the aim that one day there would be a le­gal link be­tween pol­lu­tion heights and an in­di­vid­ual’s ill­ness.”

Both Vray and Laf­forgue said this is the first time such a case has reached a court in France.

In France, air pol­lu­tion is re­spon­si­ble for 48,000 pre­ma­ture deaths ev­ery year, ac­cord­ing to the Pub­lic Health France agency.

In De­cem­ber 2016, Paris was smoth­ered in its worst winter pol­lu­tion in a decade, with au­thor­i­ties or­der­ing odd and even num­ber plate cars off the roads on al­ter­nate days.

It was only the fourth time such a mea­sure had been taken fol­low­ing se­vere pol­lu­tion episodes in 1997, 2014 and 2015.

As pol­lu­tion climbs up the po­lit­i­cal agenda ahead of 2020 mu­nic­i­pal elec­tions, Paris Mayor Anne Hi­dalgo is look­ing at pro­pos­als to limit pol­lu­tion on the pe­riph­erique, in­clud­ing cutting the speed limit to 50 kilo­me­tres per hour (30 mph).

Three other sim­i­lar cases are due to be looked at by the Paris ad­min­is­tra­tive court in June, ac­cord­ing to Laf­forgue.

In May 2018, the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion took France and five other coun­tries to the Euro­pean Court of Jus­tice for fail­ing to ap­ply long-sought steps to im­prove air qual­ity.

In France’s case the move came af­ter 12 years of warnings over fine par­ti­cles as well as ni­tro­gen diox­ide lev­els, which in some cities were more than dou­ble EU lim­its.

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