Paris schools near Notre-Dame given ‘deep clean’ over lead pollution fears

Local authorities in Paris have ordered a "deep clean" at schools around the fire-damaged Notre-Dame cathedral, a city official said on Thursday, following a media report claiming the extent of contamination has been covered up.

Paris schools near Notre-Dame given 'deep clean' over lead pollution fears
Lead from the 850-year-old roof melted in the fire. Photo: AFP

Paris health official Arnaud Gauthier said that the cleaning had been ordered “to reassure us that the risk is minimal,” adding that the levels of lead pollution caused by the April fire at Notre-Dame were not a cause for alarm.

There have been several scares over lead pollution since the blaze, with many locals fearing that the melting lead from the roof had ended up in the air they were breathing.

READ ALSO IN PICTURES: See the latest images from inside fire-ravaged Notre Dame

The rescue operation inside the cathedral. Photo: AFP

Environmental groups warned soon after the fire that 300 tonnes of lead in the roof of the Paris landmark had gone up in flames, posing a danger to residents in the area, particularly to children.

A report from the Mediapart investigative website on Thursday reported that dangerous levels of lead – as much as 10 times higher than the safe limit – had been detected in schools and creches surrounding the cathedral.

It added that Paris authorities had waited until May before conducting tests in the 10 creches and schools that are within 500 metres (yards) of the monument on the Ile de la Cite island in central Paris.

One result — in the private Sainte-Catherine elementary school — showed lead at a level of 698 micrograms per m2, 10 times higher than the limit of 70 microgrammes which is considered dangerous.

During a tour of the scorched edifice on Wednesday, reporters were told by Culture Minister Franck Riester that workers inside had to wear special masks because of the presence of lead which had seeped into some of the stone during the fire.

In June the French health authorities advised parents living in central Paris with young children and pregnant women to get their lead levels tested after an abnormally high level was detected in a child in the area.

The child was living in Ile de la Cité, where Notre-Dame cathedral is located, and the tests caused the regional health authority to trigger an “environmental investigation” to identify the cause or causes of the child's situation. 
“As a precaution”, families with children under seven years old and pregnant women living on Ile de la Cité, were invited “to consult their doctor, who may prescribe a blood test for lead”.
A screening consultation was also set up in the area.
In May, analysis carried out since the April 15 blaze detected lead dust in “very significant” levels on some streets and pavements outside the cathedral.
Between 10-20 grams of lead per kilogram (g/kg) were detected in soil samples, compared with normal background levels of just 0.3 g/kg, according to a statement from the police and the ARS regional health service.
The fire destroyed the roof and steeple of the 850-year-old landmark, melting the large sheets of lead that covered an intricate wooden framework. 
But officials at that time said testing had not revealed any lingering lead pollution in the air, with all atmospheric analyses showing less than the legal limit of 0.25 microgrammes per cubic meter.

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Notre-Dame restoration work begins as Paris cathedral on track to reopen in 2024

France's Notre-Dame cathedral is finally ready to undergo restoration work more than two years after a blaze ravaged the heritage landmark, and remains on course to reopen in 2024, authorities said Saturday, following months of painstaking work to secure the building.

Notre-Dame restoration work begins as Paris cathedral on track to reopen in 2024

The great mediaeval edifice survived the inferno on April 15th, 2019, but the spire collapsed and much of the roof was destroyed.

The focus until now had been on making the cathedral safe before restoration work could begin, which included the strenuous task of removing 40,000 pieces of scaffolding that were damaged in the blaze.

“The cathedral stands solid on its pillars, its walls are solid, everything is holding together,” said Jean-Louis Georgelin, head of the public entity tasked with rebuilding the cathedral.

Scaffolding in the interior of the building as the restoration phase begins. Photo by Thomas SAMSON / POOL / AFP

“We are determined to win this battle of 2024, to reopen our cathedral in 2024. It will be France’s honour to do so and we will do so because we are all united on this goal.”

The aim is to celebrate the first full service in the cathedral on April 16th, 2024 – five years after the fire – despite delays caused by the pandemic and the lead that spread during the blaze.

The Notre-Dame spire, a later addition to the medieval building, was completely destroyed in the blaze. Photos by AFP

Authorities will now call for tenders to select the companies to carry out the restoration work.

The cathedral’s interior walls and floors will also undergo “a thorough cleaning process” later this month.

Notre-Dame’s famous Grand Organ is already being restored, with its 8,000 pipes dismantled and sent to organ builders all over France.

It is expected to be put together again in October 2023, said Georgelin, the former head of France’s armed forces who was appointed by President Emmanuel Macron to oversee rebuilding efforts.