Ah, summertime in Paris. They're strolling down the Champs-Elysees, smooching at sidewalk cafes - and choking on air so thick it's almost like breathing bouillabaisse.
"The Pollution is Back," the daily Le Parisien headlined Saturday after health officials put the City of Lights on yet another second-stage pollution alert.People panted on park benches, and a cyclist pedaled along the Seine wearing a surgical mask to strain out some of the microscopic grit.
"There's just too many cars in this town. It's a catastrophe," said Jean-Michel Nienat, waiting at a bus stop near the Arc de Tri-omphe.
Ozone levels soared to 7 on a scale of 1 to 10 late Friday, automatically triggering a public information campaign cautioning residents and tourists to take it easy.
Officials in the Paris region of 10.6 million people urged children, the elderly and people with allergies, asthma and respiratory illnesses to avoid "unnecessary outdoor physical activity."
Stifling air pollution isn't limited to Paris. There have been scattered alerts around the country this summer, most recently in the eastern city of Strasbourg near the German border.
But the air is at its worst in the heart of the capital, where innumerable cars and tour buses belch diesel fumes. On a bad day, even the Eiffel Tower is shrouded in a blue-gray haze.
Temperatures in the high 80s to mid-90s and a lack of air-scrubbing ocean winds have made matters worse, said AirParif, the agency that monitors air quality in greater Paris.
Thick air pollution has become a pressing health issue in Paris.