A French court has ruled that the national government has failed to take sufficient action to curb air pollution in Paris, potentially setting a key precedent.
The case was brought by a 52-year-old mother, Farida, and her daughter who said their health deteriorated while living beside a notorious Parisian ring road in the northern suburb of Saint-Ouen.
But their problems disappeared when they moved elsewhere, the pair said.
Air pollution kills about 48,000 people prematurely per year, the Public Health France agency has estimated.
The case, backed by NGOs, was the first brought by individuals against the French government over air pollution.
Activists say about 40 other cases against the state from individuals are making their way through the courts, and this case could set a precedent.
Nadir Saifi of Ecologie sans Frontière, a French NGO which supported the case, described the decision as “historic”.
“I am very moved. We have been waiting for this for 20 years,” she said.
The mother and teenage daughter said the government took no effective steps against pollution, especially during a period in December 2016.
The périphérique orbital road, which opened in 1973, takes 1.1 million vehicles a day, while around 100,000 people live around it.
“The state committed a fault by taking insufficient measures concerning the quality of air” from 2012 to 2016 to bring concentrations of certain polluting gases below allowed limit, the administrative court in Montreuil outside Paris ruled.
“For victims of pollution, this is a first,” the couple’s lawyer Francois Lafforgue said.
“From now on, the state will have to take effective measures in the fight against pollution, and the victims can hope to obtain the recognition of their prejudice,” he told the media.
But the court rejected the pair’s demand for €160,000 in damages, saying it could not find a direct link between their health issues and the governmental failure to take action.
The two said their chronic bronchitis and asthma were worse during episodes of heavy pollution. They left Paris for the Loire city of Orléans and say their health improved significantly.
Olivier Blond of the Respire association, which supported the plaintiffs, said he hoped it also served as a call to action for citizens and the state. “We hope it will invite other citizens, other victims of air pollution, to join this legal fight,” he said. “We hope it will incite the state to put in place much stronger action plans to fight against air pollution.”
Around 40 similar cases brought in Lyon, Lille and Grenoble are awaiting judgement, reports say.
Paris police this week said only specific vehicles would be allowed in the city as ozone levels reached peak levels amid a potentially record-breaking heatwave.
Paris has long struggled with air pollution. Picture credit: PXHere