The reason for discord lies in an acronym: ZFE-m, for low emission mobility zone. From 2024, the 33 French cities with more than 150,000 inhabitants will have to set up these traffic restriction zones, which will gradually apply to the most polluting vehicles.
Socially explosive, the device is at the heart of the policy to fight against air pollution. This causes tens of thousands of deaths each year in France, not to mention the pathologies it causes.
Studies follow one another to estimate the damage of air pollution on human health. A study made public on October 3 established a link between exposure to several pollutants and breast cancer. In particular, it has been estimated that, out of a cohort of 5,222 people, 9% of cancers could have been avoided if the levels of exposure to nitrogen dioxide had complied with WHO recommendations. On September 28, it’s in the magazine Neurology that researchers confirmed the link between fine particles and the risk of suffering a cerebrovascular accident (CVA).
While major French cities regularly exceed the pollutant thresholds set by European rules, the ZFE-m system was first authorized by a law of 2015, before being made compulsory by the Climate and Resilience law of 2021, in 33 agglomerations of more than 150,000 inhabitants by the end of 2024.
From this date, the most polluting vehicles will have to be gradually banned. The system is based on Crit’air vignettes, allocated to vehicles on the basis of their date of approval – and therefore of the pollution standards existing at that time – and their mode of motorization (petrol, diesel, electric).
“The starting point is that the most recent vehicles are less polluting”, explains Gilles Dixsaut, doctor and president of the Ile-de-France committee against respiratory diseases. “The objective was to enable the renewal of the stock to eliminate older models from city centres. »
NO2 and particles
In the sights of the authorities are the famous NO2nitrogen dioxide, in particular emitted by old diesel vehicles. “It is an irritant of the airways, which stops at the level of the respiratory and pulmonary tracts, and will mainly cause asthma or bronchopulmonary infections”continues Doctor Gilles Dixsaut.
For more recent vehicles, the device must also make it possible to control the level of particles, PM10 and PM2.5. “The finer the particles, the more health problems they pose, confirms Gilles Dixsaut. In particular, PM2.5 can penetrate deeper into the lungs than PM10, but also enter the cardiovascular system. »
This explains the length of the established list of pathologies that can be caused by long-term exposure to air pollution: allergies, diabetes, increased risk of strokes and heart attacks, cancers or even neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s.
If the automobile is the main emitter of nitrogen dioxide, the sources of emission of fine particles are more varied on a national scale. “Near the traffic, the main culprit will be transport, while the background levels are also influenced by wood heating, industry or even agricultural spreading”explains Sabine Host, in charge of environmental health studies at the Île-de-France Regional Health Observatory.
Public Health France estimates that 40,000 deaths are attributable to exposure of the population to PM2.5 each year, and 7,000 deaths to exposure of the population to nitrogen dioxide.
Although EPZs were first and foremost designed to combat air pollution, their objectives now partly overlap with the fight against climate change. “The Citizen’s Convention for the Climate saw ZFEs as a way of also responding to the problem of greenhouse gas emissions, by accelerating the renewal of the car fleet in favor of less emitting vehicles”explains Aurélien Bigo, independent researcher on the energy transition.
“However, the Crit’air vignettes do not completely answer the climate issue, continues the researcher. A recent, heavy vehicle can emit fewer atmospheric pollutants, in particular fine particles and nitrogen dioxide, but more greenhouse gases than an older, lighter car. » Not to mention that the Crit’air sticker is only based on exhaust emissions. It does not take into account fine particles linked to braking and tires, the emissions of which increase all the more as the vehicles are heavy.