Polluted skies in Paris reach levels comparable to Beijing

BY Simone Pathe  March 14, 2014 at 3:24 PM EDT

There’s no excuse for easy-breathing tourists in France not to take in all of Paris’ sites this weekend: all major forms of public transportation, including the metro, city bikes and shared electric cars, are free. Recent air quality in the City of Lights, however, may make some visitors think twice about venturing into the streets.

Heavily polluted air, exacerbated by a high pressure system, is hovering over northern France and obstructing the usually clear view of the low-lying buildings of Paris.

The French Health Ministry has issued air quality warnings for at-risk populations. It’s the fourth day the French capital has been parked under the grey cloud, with Air Quality Index (AQI) readings on Friday coming in at 185 — comparable to Beijing, one of the world’s most polluted cities. The European Environmental Agency is calling this the worst pollution episode since 2007.

France faces potential sanctions and fines from the European Union for exceeding limits on particulate matter in the atmosphere.