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Air pollution that has turned the skies over Paris a murky yellow and shrouded much of Belgium for days forced drivers to slow down Friday and gave millions a free ride on public transportation.

Thousands fined as Parisian drivers defy traffic ban

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Cheryl Santa Maria
Digital Reporter

Monday, March 17, 2014, 2:50 PM -

Pollution has gotten so bad in Paris, France that a temporary driving ban was put into effect Monday morning.

The alternating traffic ban was intended to reduce 50% of the cars on the road to help clear the air. 

It's a drastic, albeit necessary, step enforced by officials after a belt of smog was seen stretching for hundreds of kilometres from France's Atlantic coast to Belgium and well into Germany over the weekend.

It was the worst air pollution France has seen since 2007, the European Environment Agency said. 

SEE ALSO: World Health Organization declares air pollution a carcinogen

By the lunch hour on Monday, it was reported that roughly 4,000 fines of €22 (about $30 CAD) had been handed out to motorists who drove in spite of the ban, even though the city will be offering free public transportation throughout the day.

“I know it's not great to say it but I'm willing to take my car and pay the fine to get my kids to school, because I don't have the choice,” one woman told local media.

Nearly all of France was under some sort of pollution alert Friday, with levels in the Parisian region surpassing some of those in the world's most notoriously polluted cities, including Beijing and Delhi. 

SILENT KILLER: Coal pollution causes 22,300 premature deaths in Europe annually

The smog has been particularly severe in France because the city has an unusually high number of diesel vehicles, whose nitrogen oxide fumes mix with ammonia from springtime fertilizers and form particulate ammonium nitrate. Pollutants from the burning of dead leaves and wood contribute as well. 

One environmental group complained earlier this week, denouncing the "inertia of the government,'' saying it was putting lives in danger. 

There's no question that pollution can be an immediate health hazard, especially for the very young and old and for anyone with respiratory or cardiac disorders, said European Environment Agency air quality manager Valentin Foltescu. 

With files from The Associated Press

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