Air pollution (France)
Why should we care about this issue
- Air pollution
The gases and fine particles in polluted air have harmful effects on human health and the functioning of ecosystems. Each individual breathes in around 15 000 litres of air every day and this air must be clean.
Nitrogen dioxide (NO2), sulphur dioxide (SO2), polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), volatile organic compounds (VOCs), benzene, ozone (O3) and particulates are harmful to the lungs and may trigger serious illnesses. Persons suffering from respiratory problems are particularly sensitive to any deterioration in air quality.
Pollutants emitted into the atmosphere can also affect the functioning of ecosystems, for example by combining with rainwater (acid rain).
The state and impacts
Changes in air quality in French conurbations
In France, air quality monitoring has been stepped up since 2000. The measures adopted have made it possible to calculate an annual growth index for air pollution. This index enables figures to be placed on the changes in concentrations of the four pollutants most closely monitored to date: SO2, NO2, O3 and PM10. The calculations are based on background data from all urban areas in Metropolitan France (excluding Corsica).
Overall, air quality in France’s towns and cities is improving. With the exception of a marked increase in 2003 caused by unusual weather conditions during the summer, the global index of air pollution fell by 20 % during the period 2000-2009. A decrease in SO2 has made a major contribution to improving the global index of air quality. Between 2000 and 2009, the SO2 index fell by 65 %. In contrast, O3 has increased and remains above the 2000 level. The NO2 index is slightly down (-14 %), while the PM10 index shows no significant trend.
The Air Quality Index
France has a substantial air quality monitoring network, developed since the introduction of the Law on Air and the Rational Use of Energy in 1996. Numerous measurements have been taken by the Approved Air Quality Monitoring Associations, which means that the public can be informed about air quality at local level and the necessary procedures can be triggered in the event of any risk to health. These measurements are disseminated on a daily basis through the Air Quality Index for conurbations with over one million inhabitants. The Air Quality Index is calculated on the basis of SO2, NO2, O3 and PM10 levels. The following are links to dynamic maps by conurbation, indicating the number of days when the AQI is (1) good or very good (2) average or mediocre or (3) poor or very poor:
· Map, by conurbation, indicating the number of days when the AQI is "poor or very poor"
Air pollution by particulates (PM10)
Particulates consist of fine liquids (fogs) or solids (dust, smoke) in the ambient air, emitted directly or resulting from chemical reactions. They may be naturally occurring or the consequence of human activities. Particulates of industrial origin often contain heavy metals (cadmium, nickel and chrome) and those produced by motor vehicles are composed of carbonaceous elements, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and sulphates. The effects of particulates, particularly on human health, vary depending on their size and physical/chemical composition.
Between 1990 and 2008, PM10 emissions fell by 33.7 %. This was due to improvements in industrial dust control and biomass combustion technologies and an end to open cast mining (2002) and underground mining (2004). In 2008, the heaviest emitters of PM10 in France were agriculture and forestry (34.7 %), the manufacturing industry (29.1 %), the residential-tertiary sector (21.8 %) and road transport (10.7 %).
Fine particulates (PM2.5)
There are two types of fine particulates with a diameter of less than 2.5 µm (PM2.5) primary or secondary. Primary particulates may be of natural origin or man-made. Between 1990 and 2008, PM2.5 emissions fell by 40.5 %. In 2008, PM2.5 emissions came mainly from the residential/tertiary sector (34.1 %), industry* (29.4 %), agriculture and forestry (20.5%) and road transport (12 %). Within these sectors the emissions are partly due to combustion and partly to the operation of quarries, construction sites, building and public works and soil tillage. The secondary particulates form in the air as a result of a chemical reaction with precursor pollutants such as sulphur oxides, nitrogen oxides, ammonia and VOCs.
* Industrial emissions include those associated with waste treatment.
Indoor air quality
France has set up an Indoor Air Quality Observatory to gain a better understanding of indoor pollution with a view to producing recommendations on improving indoor air quality. The OQAI also plays a role in determining regulatory measures. In 2003-2005, the OQAI produced an initial report on air quality in 567 French homes which were representative of 24 million residences in Metropolitan France (excluding Corsica). In 2010, as part of its programme on “Living Spaces Frequented by Children” the OQAI began a national investigation at 2 000 schools and 1 000 nurseries.
Emissions of acid pollutants
In France, ammonia (NH3) is currently the main source of acidification, representing over half of all emissions (53.3 % in 2008). Although mainly produced by agriculture, nitrogen oxides (NOX) from road transport contribute a third of the pollution. Between 1990 and 2008, acid emissions fell by 36 % and NH3 emissions by 5 %.
Emissions of acid pollutants in Metropolitan France
* Acid equivalent (Aeq) represents the total quantity of substances released into the atmosphere which contribute to acidification in terrestrial, air and water environments. It is calculated by weighting the emissions of each pollutant with a coefficient representing its acidification potential: SO2: 0.0313; NOX: 0.0217; NH3: 0.0588
Source: Citepa, Coralie, Secten format (updated April 2010)
Sulphur dioxide (SO2) is mainly produced by the burning of fossil fuels containing sulphur (coal, fuel oil, diesel oil) and in some industrial processes. In 2008, SO2 air emissions in Metropolitan France amounted to 358 000 tonnes, compared with 1.34 million tonnes in 1990 and 3.2 million tonnes in 1980.
This reduction in SO2 emissions can be explained by a number of factors:
§ The introduction of the nuclear electricity programme since 1980 (-89 %), which has led to a reduction in fossil fuel consumption, energy savings and the use of less sulphurous fuels
§ The use of fuels with reduced sulphur content and improvements in the energy efficiency of industrial installations between 1990 and 2008 (-73 %).
The main contributors to this reduction have been road transport (-97 %), the residential/tertiary sector (-74 %) and the manufacturing industry (-73 %).
France’s international commitments require a reduction in SO2 emissions. The Gothenburg Protocol (1 December 1999) set a new maximum emissions level for France of 400 000 tonnes by 2010. The European Directive of 23 October 2001 set an emissions ceiling of 375 000 tonnes to be met by 2010. To meet these commitments, France plans to use technology to limit the sulphur content of liquid fuels, while also reducing the emission limits for fuel-burning installations.
In 2008, NOX emissions in France amounted to 1 272 000 tonnes, a reduction of 34 % since 1990.
Road transport accounted for 52% of nitrogen oxide emissions, followed by agriculture and forestry (14.2 %) and the manufacturing industry (12.5 %). The relative contribution of transport has been decreasing since 1993, with the introduction of the catalytic converter.
Emissions of nitrogen oxides have fallen in all sectors apart from the residential/tertiary sectors, where they have remained steady, and other forms of transport, where there has been a slight increase. By far the greatest improvement has been in the road transport sector (-42 % since 1990). Emissions have fallen by 34 % in the energy conversion sector, by 34 % in the manufacturing industry and by 17.4 % in agriculture and forestry. However, further efforts to reduce emissions are still needed in order for France to achieve its emissions commitments for 2010:(860 000 tonnes under the Gothenburg Protocol and 810 000 tonnes under the National Emission Ceilings Directive 2001/81/EC).
Emissions of non-methane VOCs
Non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOCs have a number of adverse effects on health and some are toxic or carcinogenic. NMVOCs are also involved in the process of ozone formation in the lower atmosphere. NMVOCs, which are present in fuels and in many commonly-used products containing solvents, are emitted by combustion or evaporation.
In 2008, emissions of NMVOCs in Metropolitan France were estimated at
1.086 million tonnes. The main sectors responsible are manufacturing (31.4 %)
and the residential/tertiary sector (31.1 %). Since 1990, NMVOC emissions
have fallen by 60 % due to a reduction in emissions from road transport
(-85 %), energy conversion (-69 %), residential/tertiary (-49 %)
(-44 %). The marked drop in emissions is the result of progress made in the storage and distribution of hydrocarbons, the introduction of the catalytic converter and the increasing proportion of diesel vehicles.
Although France has met its commitment under the Geneva Protocol to reduce emissions of NMVOCs by 30 % between 1998 and 1999, further work needs to be done to achieve the target set under the National Emission Ceilings Directive 2001/81/EC (1.05 million tonnes by 2010).
Critical loads on ecosystems
Critical ozone levels for plant protection
High ozone concentrations can affect the physiological processes of plants and reduce plant productivity. AOT40 (Accumulated over Threshold of 40 ppb) is an indicator of plants’ exposure risk to ozone. The highest ozone levels were recorded in rural stations in the south and east of France. These stations exceeded the AOT40 target level for plants (18 000 µg/m³.h average over 5 years). This is explained by a combination of factors favouring ozone production in these regions: high levels of sunlight, traffic and industry conducive to the formation of precursors. In contrast, the west of the country shows generally lower levels of exposure to ozone.
Critical acid loads
The critical acid load is the maximum deposition quantity of acidifying compounds which will not cause irreversible damage to ecosystems. It is calculated for each ecosystem and varies geographically. In Europe, following the reduction in emissions and depositions of acid pollutants, it is estimated that in 2005 less than 8 % of surfaces were subjected to acid deposition exceeding the critical loads. In France, it is estimated that almost 10 % of ecosystems suffered acid deposition in excess of the critical loads in 2005. Acid deposits are higher in the north of the country.
 Loi sur l’air et l’utilisation rationnelle de l’énergie - LAURE
 Associations agréées de surveillance de la qualité de l’air - AASQA
 Observatoire de la Qualité de l’Air Intérieure - OQAI
 DIRECTIVE 2001/80/EC OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND OF THE COUNCIL of 23 October 2001 on the limitation of emissions of certain pollutants into the air from large combustion plants
The key drivers and pressures
Pesticides in the atmosphere
Contamination of the air by pesticides is a new component of air pollution. To date there are no regulations governing pesticides in the ambient air, and no regulatory requirements for monitoring them.
Pesticides may be present in the air due to evaporation from the soil or from plants, wind erosion and scattering during application. Since 2000, France's Approved Air Quality Monitoring Associations have been studying and measuring the behaviour of pesticides in the ambient air. Although the monitoring is still being harmonised at national level all the studies carried out to date show the presence of pesticides in the atmosphere.
The 2020 outlook
The monitoring of airborne PM2.5 concentrations was regulated at the European level for the first time in 2008 by Directive 2008/50/EC on ambient air quality and cleaner air for Europe. The Directive sets an annual mean limit value of 25µg/m³, to be met from 1 January 2015 or, as far as possible, from 2010. It also requires Member States to reduce urban background PM2.5 against 2010 levels. In France, the Planning Law of 3 August 2009 provides for the creation of a particulates plan which would set a PM2.5 target value of 15µg/m³ for 2010 and become the compulsory limit value in 2015. In urban areas and other areas where these limits cannot be met within the timescale, a derogation would allow limits of 20 and 25 µg/m³ respectively.
In France, the reglement 2010-1250 on the air quality of 21 october 2010 set a target value of 20 mg/m3 for a calendar year.
Existing and planned responses
Provisions for air quality monitoring in France.
In France, Approved Air Quality Monitoring Associations include national and local authorities, manufacturers, and environmental protection associations. The French Environment and Energy Management Agency is responsible for the technical coordination of the monitoring arrangements.. The pollutants measured are those covered by regulations under the Law on Air Quality or European directives: sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, nitrogen oxides, ozone, benzene, lead, particulates (PM10 and PM2.5), carbon monoxide, arsenic, cadmium, nickel, mercury and PAHs.
Protection of the atmosphere
The 1996 Law on Air and the Rational Use of Energy provides for the creation of atmosphere protection plans for conurbations of more than 250 000 inhabitants. These plans define objectives for reducing pollutant concentrations in the atmosphere to limit values below those set by the European directives.
The 1996 Law on Air and the Rational Use of Energy provides for the creation of urban transport plans for conurbations of more than 100 000 inhabitants. The aim of the plans is to develop public transport and other clean forms of transport and to address parking and road management (e.g. cycle lanes).
Regional air quality programmes
A regional air quality programme is a regional planning, information and coordination tool based on air quality measurements and emissions inventories. It is reviewed every five years and must be submitted for public consultation.
France's commitments relating to ozone-depleting substances
The progressive reduction in the production and use of ozone-depleting substances is regulated by the Montreal Protocol and European Regulation (EC) No. 1005/2009. France ceased production of halons on 1 January 1994, CFCs and carbon tetrachloride on 1 January 1995 and trichloroethane and hydrobromofluorocarbons (HBFCs) on 1 January 1996. Regulation (EC) No 1005/2009 on substances that deplete the ozone layer incorporates the provisions of the Montreal Protocol. France has met its international commitments in relation to ozone-depleting substances.
· ACADEMIE DES SCIENCES (1993) Ozone et propriétés oxydantes de la troposphère. Paris, Lavoisier, 262 p. (Report no. 30).
· CITEPA (2008) Inventaire des émissions de polluants atmosphériques en France - Séries sectorielles et analyses étendues. Rapport d'inventaire nationale - February 2008 Secten, 289 p.
· CITEPA (2009) Inventaire des émissions de polluants atmosphériques en France - Séries sectorielles et analyses étendues. Rapport d'inventaire nationale – June 2009 Secten, 305 p.
· CONSEIL SUPERIEUR D'HYGIENE PUBLIQUE EN FRANCE (1996) L'ozone, indicateur majeur de la pollution photochimique en France : évaluation et gestion du risque sur la santé. Paris, Lavoisier, 164 p.
· DAB W., ROUSSEL I. (2001). L'air et la ville: les nouveaux visages de la pollution atmosphérique. Paris, Hachette Littératures, 218 p.
· IFEN (2010) Méthodologie de l’indice d’évolution de la pollution de l’air; Orléans: Ifen. 13 p. Available at: http://www.ifen.fr Section: "Accès thématique" > "Air" > "En savoir plus".
· INSTITUT NATIONAL DE VEILLE SANITAIRE (1999) Surveillance épidémiologique air et santé : surveillance des effets sur la santé liés à la pollution atmosphérique en milieu urbain. Saint-Maurice, INVS, 148 p.
For references, please go to www.eea.europa.eu/soer or scan the QR code.
This briefing is part of the EEA's report The European Environment - State and Outlook 2015. The EEA is an official agency of the EU, tasked with providing information on Europe’s environment.
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