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POLLUTION

The riddle of the Garfield telephones washing ashore on French beaches

French environmental activists are trying to solve the riddle of the plastic phones modelled after the cartoon cat Garfield that wash up on Brittany beaches every year.

The riddle of the Garfield telephones washing ashore on French beaches
Plougonvelin, one of the villages where the telephones wash up. Photo: AFP

Last year alone around 200 pieces or entire phones were found on the same 24-kilometre stretch of coast in the Bay of Brest.

They have been arriving there regularly for the past 30 years.

One theory is that a container of the bright orange devices – which today sell for up to 40 euros on eBay – may have fallen from a ship in the 1980s.

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Whenever a storm moves the sunken container on the seabed, some phones are released and washed ashore by currents.

But the Paws company that today holds the Garfield licence told FranceInfo news website that it was unaware of any such container containing its products being lost at sea off the French coast.

 

The fictional cat Garfield was born in 1978 and is hugely popular worldwide. Photo: AFP

A Breton farmer has perhaps lifted the lid a little on the mystery, after telling the Télégramme newspaper that he remembered a container washing ashore in the 1980s that contained Garfield phones.

The remains of a container are still to be seen at the same rocky spot, the paper reported.

But it appears now to be empty of any products and locals believe it cannot be the source of all the phones that wash ashore.

“It never stops,” said Claire Simonin Le Meur, president of local association Viltansoù that conducts regular beach cleaning in the area and which logs the type of waste material that is found.

“At each (beach) clean, we collect three or four telephones, either complete or in pieces,” she told France Info.

The phones, with eyes that open and close when the receiver is lifted or replaced, do not float and are about 30 centimetres long.

They are often in good condition when picked up on the beaches of Plougonvelin and Ploumoguer, near the city of Brest.

Local environmentalists keep them as evidence of ocean pollution.

Their novelty value helps local charities recruit people, particularly youngsters, to take part in their beach cleaning sweeps.

“The beach sweeps become almost like a treasure hunt,” said Claire Simonin Le Meur.

 

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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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