France is “at fault” for failing to protect a mother and daughter from air pollution they say caused them serious respiratory problems, a court outside Paris has found in a landmark ruling.
The French state had taken insufficient measures against dangerously high atmospheric pollution in the Paris area in December 2016, the most serious surge in damaging fine particles in a decade, concluded the administrative court in Montreuil.
At the time the two plaintiffs were living in the northern Paris suburb of Saint-Ouen, just outside the clogged périphérique ring road, used by more than a million motorists per day.
The case, backed by NGOs, was the first of its kind brought by individuals against the French state over health problems caused by air pollution.
”The state committed a fault by taking insufficient measures concerning the quality of air," the court concluded.
“This is an historic ruling because the responsibility of the state has at last been recognised in an air pollution case,” François Lafforgue, the plaintiffs’ lawyer, told Le Monde. "From now, the state will have to take effective measures.”
However, the court rejected the pair's demand for 160,000 euros (£143,000) in damages, saying it could not find a direct link between their health problems and the state's failings.
The mother, 52, whose first name is Farida, had argued she had to take time off work due to lung infections and the daughter, 16, had suffered asthma attacks.
Since the pollution spike, they have moved to the city of Orleans on doctors' advice. Their health has improved considerably, said Mr Lafforgue.
Speaking after the ruling, the mother said: “I hope that other people in my case will file legal complaints.”
Among the 40-odd other similar cases across France, three more are reportedly due to come to court this week in Paris.
“Behind Farida and her daughter, there are dozens of other people who are suffering also from air pollution and who have very solid cases,” said Olivier Blond of the NGO Respire.
The court's ruling comes as concern grows over pollution in Paris as the capital and other parts of France swelter in a heatwave. A third of motorists face a driving ban if levels are deemed too high in the coming days.
Air pollution is responsible for 48,000 premature deaths every year, according to the Public Health France agency. That is higher than in the UK, where the figure is between 28,000 and 36,000, according to findings published last year by COMEAP, an expert committee that issues advice to government.
In May 2018, the European Commission took France and the UK, along with Germany, Hungary, Italy and Romania, to the European Court of Justice for failing to apply long-sought steps to improve air quality.
They face multi-million euro fines for failing to act.
Toxic air results in more than 400,000 early deaths across Europe each year, according to the European Environment Agency.