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The Notre Dame Fire Caused Lead Levels in the Area to Skyrocket

Officials have stressed, however, that lead poisoning is typically something that happens over long periods of exposure.

by Tim Marcin
May 9 2019, 5:55pm

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When the 850-year-old Notre Dame cathedral went up in flames last month, its spire and parts of its frame — which contained hundreds of tons of lead — burned to the ground. Now, lead levels on surfaces surrounding the famed Paris cathedral are dozens of times higher than what’s safe, police warned Thursday.

Authorities said lead levels from the landmark's melted roof were between 32 and 65 times the recommended limit from French health officials, according to the Associated Press. Authorities said the grounds immediately adjoining Notre Dame — presently closed to the public — were found to have high levels of lead but added there was no risk of air inhalation or in areas further from the cathedral, the Guardian reported. Airparif, which monitors air quality in Paris, found pollution levels weren’t above normal levels after the fire.

Nearly two weeks after the April 15 blaze, police recommended that locals wipe down any surfaces that might be affected by dust filled with lead. Authorities also recommended children and pregnant women wash their hands frequently.

Officials have stressed, however, that lead poisoning is typically something that happens over long periods of exposure and that there have not been reports of acute poisoning cases.

French environmental group Robin des Bois has issued warnings on the levels of lead after the fire, believed caused by renovation work, and are expected to do so again later this week. Four days after the fire, the group issued a statement saying the cathedral had been reduced to a “state of toxic waste.”

The presence of high levels of lead could also prove to be a complicating factor for an ambitious rebuild plan for Notre Dame. French President Emmanuel Macron has called for the historic landmark to be entirely rebuilt in just five years.

“If you want to do it in five years, it won’t be done in the traditional way, and I think they would have to cut corners,” John David — the master mason at York Minster, a cathedral in York, England — told Vice News of Macron’s timeline announced shortly after the fire. "This shouldn't be treated as a political aid. It's beyond politics. It's France. For anyone trying to get political brownie points out of it, it’s completely unfair.”

Cover image: Workers stand on the roof of the Notre-Dame de Paris cathedral in Paris one week after a fire devastated the cathedral. They install protective tarps on the roof. Debut de l'installation d'une bache sur Notre-Dame de Paris.Les degradations et les affaissements qu'est susceptible de causer le ruissellement de l'eau sur l'edifice et les 'uvres qui s'y trouvent encore sont redoutes. une statue du transept oriental fragilisee lors de l'incendie est descendue. (Sipa via AP Images)