Air quality law felt in Alps already

A new local air quality law, which was passed after years of pressure by groups in T&E’s network, has already seen a marked reduction in pollution.

The law was introduced in the Pays de Savoie area of France, which borders southern Switzerland and Italy. A campaign for cleaner air in the Mont Blanc area by two Alpine pressure groups, Inspire and Association pour le Respect du Site du Mont Blanc (ARSMB) – both associates of T&E’s French member France Nature Environnement – along with other groups, local mayors and doctors, contributed to the new local law being approved last July, despite intense lobbying against it by the road industry.

The law finally came into use in January. Stable weather conditions over the New Year period trapped pollutants in the Alpine valleys. A pollution peak started on 31 December, and by 6 January particle levels in the Arve Valley were around 120 microgrammes per cubic metre of air (the alert level is 80 microgrammes/m3).

From midnight on 7 January, the Prefect of Haute-Savoie used the new law for the first time, temporarily banning the most polluting heavy goods vehicles  from transiting through the Arve Valley. The ban lasted for three days, by which time the weather conditions changed and the air quality in the whole area had improved, but markedly in the lower Arve valley.

Anne Lassman-Trappier of Inspire said: ‘This is a very welcome first step for environmental organisations, but it was not just the ban that improved the air quality – a change in the weather helped too. What we need is a long-term way of reducing transport emissions, and the best would be to direct the most polluting trucks onto the transalpine rail service on a permanent basis. Due to the inaction of French and Italian authorities, this service has been kept in experimental mode since 2003, with minimal capacity, when what we urgently need is 10 times more rail capacity.’