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POLLUTION

France pulls up sunken tyres from artificial reefs

Tourists and film stars hitting the beach at the French Riviera resort of Cannes may be blissfully unaware but lurking beneath the sparkling waves are tens of thousands of now troublesome scrap tyres, sunk deliberately to boost marine development.

France pulls up sunken tyres from artificial reefs
The tyres are hauled up from the seabed. Photo: AFP
Back in the 1960s, it seemed like the ultimate win-win idea: sink tyres into the sea and create artificial reefs, stimulate marine life, help the
fishing industry and get rid of unwanted scrap in one fell swoop.
   
But decades later and after millions of tyres have been sent to the deep, authorities worried about pollution are starting to reverse the trend and haul the tyres back.
   
On the French Riviera coast, authorities have just started an operation to remove around 2,000 tyres, a pilot scheme that could be extended to reclaim all 25,000 tyres under the sea between Cannes and Antibes, another posh resort, next year.
   
France was by no means alone in thinking this was a good idea. According to scientists, around 200 artificial reefs made of tyres are in existence worldwide, notably in waters off the United States, Japan, Malaysia and Israel.
   
The problem has been that the tyres have been dragged around by the currents and in many cases broken up, damaging the ecosystem and failing to attract the marine life expected.
   
“If colonisation never took place, it's because the used tyres are covered with hydrocarbons. When they break up over time, they release heavy metals into the environment that are toxic for marine life,” said Jacky Bonnemains, from the Robin Hood environmental pressure group.
   
The French agency in charge of protecting marine areas, based in the port of Brest in the northwest Brittany region, aims to “restore” the habitat by removing the tyres. It stresses, however, that when they were sunk, they were thought to be “completely inert” and present no possible danger for the environment.
   
Unfortunately, in addition to the environmental impact, the hoped-for results in terms of sparking marine life also failed to materialise. Tyre
reefs were 40 percent less efficient in terms of colonisation than similar concrete artificial reefs, said the agency.
 
 
– 'Serious' threat in Florida –
 
Creating artificial reefs is nothing new — even 3,000 years ago, the ancients were dropping rocks into the sea to attract fish.
   
And France is by no means the world leader in the activity. There are an estimated 90,000 m3 — about the size of an ocean-going cargo ship — of
artificial reefs made of tyres in France compared to around 20 million in Japan.
   
The United States has more than 1,000 artificial reefs along its coastline and around two million tyres were sunk off the coast of Florida in 1972 in an attempt to promote marine life.
   
The idea came from tyre giant Goodyear.
   
“Goodyear came along and said 'that will be useful to fishermen and the sea.' They were trying to give a veneer of usefulness to the deliberate
dumping of waste in the environment,” said environmentalist Bonnemains.
   
However, in Florida as elsewhere, the tyres became detached after storms and currents and washed up on beaches causing environmental damage and also — ironically — harming the natural coral reefs.
   
Florida's state environmental agency describes it as a “serious” threat and launched a programme to begin removing the tyres in 2007.
   
But with so many tyres to deal with, even the agency in Florida admits the “complexity” and the “scale” of the challenge ahead.

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POLLUTION

Paris faces legal claim over lead pollution from Notre-Dame fire

Paris authorities have been accused of failing to safeguard the health of people living near Notre-Dame cathedral due to lead pollution from a devastating fire two years ago.

Paris faces legal claim over lead pollution from Notre-Dame fire
A complaint has been lodged over lead pollution in Paris from the devastating fire at Notre Dame cathedral Photo: Fabien Barrau | AFP

Local families along with the Paris branch of the CGT trade union and the anti-pollution association Henri Pezerat, have filed the legal complaint alleging city and public health authorities endangered lives.

“Despite the scale of the fire and knowledge about the risk of pollution and contamination… no precaution in particular was taken by the authorities involved for more than three months after the fire,” according to a copy of the complaint seen by AFP.

It says 400 tonnes of lead from the roof of the Gothic masterpiece melted or were dispersed as microparticles over the French capital during the blaze on April 15, 2019.

“Children (in crèches and schools), neighbours and workers have clearly been exposed to the risk of lead” pollution, the complaint adds. “These facts amount to the crime of endangering the lives of others.”

The square in front of the cathedral was closed again to the public in May this year after tests revealed high concentrations of toxic lead particles.

Several months after the fire, city authorities ordered a deep-clean of schools in the area, while children and pregnant women were urged to have blood tests.

The complaint says the city withheld information from school directors and failed to act promptly. It also targets the police department, the culture ministry and regional health authorities.

The efforts of firefighters ensured the great medieval edifice survived the fire despite the collapse of the spire and much of the roof being destroyed.

But the lead risks delayed work on clearing debris and launching the restoration effort for the landmark, which President Emmanuel Macron wants open for visitors in time for the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris.

Investigators have yet to determine the cause of the blaze, but they have said an accident, possibly caused by a short circuit or discarded cigarette butt, remains the most likely explanation.

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