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Notre-Dame cleanup proceeds with caution after lead exposure identified

NOTRE DAME
Thomas Samson | AFP
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A lawsuit has been filed against city and national officials, arguing that they were not forthright with the public about this health risk.

It has been months since a fire devastated Notre-Dame Cathedral, but the French Ministry of Culture reports the ruined building is still vulnerable, as the heat wave contributes to the its crumbling. Construction efforts have resumed after weeks of suspension due to lead contamination, a result of the April incident that still threatens public health.

The New York Times reports that more than 400 tons of lead roofing was caught up in the blaze, which caused a cloud of lead particles to be released over the city of Paris. The public health risk presented by such toxic particles has led to criticism, and even a lawsuit aimed at city and national officials, which suggests that they were not forthright with the public over such hazardous conditions.

The government has denied the accusation of negligence, noting that they did their best in an emergency situation. A July article from the New York Times outlines the extraordinary circumstances that emergency personnel faced on April 15, as well as the risks firefighters took in order to keep the historic building standing.

Currently, a team of workers is decontaminating an area of 100,000 square feet around Notre-Dame. On asphalt streets they are able to use high pressure water mixed with a special compound, but on harder surfaces they utilize a specialized gel, which can remove lead particles embedded within stone. As the work picks up the pace in the coming months, they intend to implement more decontamination measures.

Along with Notre-Dame, officials are making an effort to decontaminate school buildings that were within a 1,600 foot radius of the fire. Anne Souyris, the city’s deputy mayor in charge of health, noted that all of these buildings should be free of lead by the time school begins.

Tests performed at local shops and restaurants did not show elevated levels of lead; however. the destruction of Notre-Dame has taken its own toll. Many of the estimated 40 businesses that rely on foot traffic from the Cathedral’s visitors have limited hours or laid off employees since the church grounds have been closed to pilgrims and tourists.

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