The (not so) fresh mountain air

Air pollution is regularly over the legal threshold in the Arve valley, an area which includes the world famous ski resorts of Chamonix and Megève. The situation is so serious than a Plan of Protection of the Atmosphere was devised in 2010 to reduce air pollution in the area.

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There are 3 main sources for this pollution: transport, residental and insdusty.

How bad is it ?

The air in the Arve area is as polluted as the air of the cities of Lyon or Grenoble, but thankfully not as toxic as the air in Paris.

Chamonix under a layer of air pollution

Chamonix under a layer of air pollution

A sensitive area

Steep mountain sides, deep valleys and temperature inversions, help trap pollutants on the valley floor, particularly in winter on sunny days, when the air becomes very still. This beautiful and sensitive area requires protection from air pollution and from mankind's heavy footing. Instead, on top of the daily life of the valley, house heating and getting around of its population, an additional 1 million cars and half a million trucks cross the Arve valley each year to reach Mont-Blanc tunnel, above the town of Chamonix, at an altitude of over 1.200m.

Health effects

In the Arve valley, between 60 and 80 premature deaths are caused by air pollution each year (according to InVS - PPA report), for a total population in the area of 155’000.


Transport emissions

  • Road traffic is responsible for the emission of over 380 known pollutants, of which 114 have at least one Toxicological Value of Reference and 30 are carcinogenic.
  • Diesel engine exhaust fumes are classified as carcinogenic by WHO. 
  • Road pollution has serious consequences on coronary illnesses, strokes, asthmatic and chronic bronchitis, lung cancer and lung capacity.
  • Traffic pollution also reduces male fertility and sperm quality.
  • Most of our exposure to particles occurs while in transport.

A plan with little effect

The under-used Alpine Railroad and existing railway line through the french northern Alps

The under-used Alpine Railroad and existing railway line through the french northern Alps

The situation is so serious that a Plan of Protection of the Atmosphere was agreed in 2012, with measures devised to reduce emissions from the 3 sectors responsible for this pollution: residential heating, transport and industry. Only a handful of these measures are effectively applied (wood-burning heating, garden waste burning and reduced speed limit for cars). Road transport and industry lobbies have managed to keep both sectors from having to change their ways and reduce their emissions. A shift towards rail transport is necessary - and possible - for goods transports through the Alps, on the nearby existing railway line, recently renovated, and the Alpine Railroad service.

The remedy?

No magic wand can be waved to solve the issue. We all need to reduce our emissions: people living in the area, visiting tourists, businesses in the area and international goods transport and industry sectors. This will not only reduce air pollution, but also climate emissions, which are a major threat to the local tourism economy, but also to water supply in Europe and to the very future of mankind.

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