When people think of Chamonix France, many people think of extreme skiing, big mountains, adventure, powder, couloirs, fabulous hiking, mountain running. What they may be surprised to learn is that Chamonix and the lower Arve valley have some of the worst air quality in all of France. We spend around 40+ (and going higher yearly it seems) days living well above the allowable (by EU standards) air pollution levels.
The local governments are supportive of trying to stop this pollution with a variety of measures, but the state and federal government are not supporting the local populations. Of course money is involved – Chamonix and the Arve valley is a giant trucking route for international transport of goods through the Mont Blanc tunnel. Recommendations from many studies show that limiting the number of trucks and eliminating the most polluting diesel engines should help reduce this pollution. But the state politicians refuse to take action. Add to this the fact that due to high electricity rates many more residents have to rely on wood fires for heat, and the fact that upgrading an inefficient open fireplace to a modern high efficiency burner is very costly (€2000-€8000 depending on choices) most of the population cannot afford to become more energy efficient. We can also add to this mix an influx of wealthy ex-pats who seem to prefer driving gas guzzling higher polluting 4x4s to smaller cars, biking or public transit and this has lead to an unhealthy soup we now breathe in far too many days a year.
Standing at the top of any ski area in the region, one can view a brown haze suffocating the valleys below. The type of pollutants involved are linked to higher rates of cancer, respiratory problems and sinus problems. It has gotten so bad in the past 2-3 years that now several weeks a year the children of the valley cannot go outside to play at recess because the air is too polluted to breathe. This in an area previously renowned as an extreme sports capital.
When will the Prefecture of the Haute Savoie take heed and action to protect our air and mountains and health (and in so-doing also protect our tourist trade that so many here rely on for making their living) instead of protecting the trucking industry lobbyists and private owners that control the ATMB and their own tax share of the very high fees per truck that crosses the Tunnel du Mont Blanc (upwards of €400 per truck with 1500-1800 trucks per day heading through the tunnel).
Groups such as the ARSMB and Inspire are working to pressure state politicians to take action. If you care about reducing air pollution in this pristine area, please sign this petition that Inspire has created, calling upon the state to implement a Plan for the Protection of the Atmosphere. This plan was written up in 2012 and passed by the Haute Savoie prefecture to placate the EU and avoid high fines EU for surpassing allowed air pollution levels – but now the state refuses to actually implement the measures called for in the plan.