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Notre Dame repair crews work again, but leading concerns in Paris remain: NPR



Restoration work resumed on Monday at the Notre Dame Cathedral, which was damaged by fire in Paris, after being frightened by lead contamination.

Thomas Samson / AFP / Getty Images


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Thomas Samson / AFP / Getty Images

Restoration work resumed on Monday at the Notre Dame Cathedral, which was damaged by fire in Paris after fears of lead contamination.

Thomas Samson / AFP / Getty Images

Work at the site of the damaged Notre Dame Cathedral in France resumed on Monday after a three-week hiatus over concerns about lead that erupted from the April fire.

As the flames pierce the 850-year-old roof-top cathedral, smoke blows out – its yellow hue of burning lead – spreading toxic dust that settles through streets, homes, businesses and schools in parts of central Paris.

The cleanup of Notre Dame Square and the surrounding streets begins on August 13, and Paris Police Chief Michel Cadot says it will continue until September 10. The process involves vacuuming and cleaning the floor, using a high pressure hose to rinse the earth with chemicals and recover wastewater. In some places a special gel is applied and then removed after curing, taking with it harmful particles. Notre Dame's fire revives the search for skilled stone carvers in France “/>

New measures are being introduced to decontaminate workers at the cathedral. But environmental associations, unions and other groups say authorities should have started the cleanup months ago and fear health risks could continue in part of Paris.

The fire melted about 440 tons of lead contained in the roof and the spy. , estimates Jackie Boneemans, president of the Robin de Boas Conservation Group, citing research on archives and historical documents.

Workers are cleaning the area outside the cathedral on Monday after French inspectors said workers could return to the site damaged by the fire to continue repairs.

Francois Mori / AP


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François Mori / AP

Workers are cleaning the area outside the cathedral on Monday after French inspectors said workers could return to the site damaged by the fire to continue repairs.

François Mori / AP

Last month, Robin de Boa filed a lawsuit against the authorities, claiming that officials were not able to quickly limit pollution. The organization, along with unions and other groups, also accuses officials of downplaying the burden of risk.

"We believe that the priority is not to hamper the economy and business in Paris's historic district," Bonnemains said.

After the fire broke out on April 15, police said the risk of lead exposure was "very localized." Areas including the square and the gardens of the cathedral were already blocked for the public. Authorities have advised residents of the area to use wet wipes to get rid of dust.

In May, officials assured the public that the air quality around Notre Dame was not toxic, and Paris-based air quality watchdog Airparif said pollution was not uncommon the day after the fire. But Bonnemains said authorities should inform tourists and locals more about the risks of lead contamination.

Recently, a day before the start of the cleanup, pedestrians could still climb to the edge of the barricaded playground in front of Notre Dame. Visitors took pictures and families sat on the ground in front of the damaged cathedral.

Cordelia Drew, who was visiting London, stated that she did not know there was lead contamination and would appreciate a preliminary warning. "Honestly, if I knew about it, I probably would have done some research," she said. "If it was serious enough, I would have thought about [coming to Notre Dame]."

Repairs to the damaged cathedral were stopped for three We have already introduced new safety measures with the resumption of work.

Jake Ziginero for NPR


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Jake Ziginero for NPR

Repairs to the Cathedral damaged by fire were stopped for three weeks. At the time of the introduction of new safety measures as work resumes.

Jake Ziginero for NPR

Bonnemains stated that the lawsuit raised important awareness to the local public about the danger of fire exposure from lead, but was not sure what the outcome would be. The Paris prosecutor will have to decide whether to launch an investigation based on the organization's allegations and evidence.

Staff at nearby cafes and souvenir shops, in particular the rue du Cloître-Notre-Dame, which runs along the cathedral's northeast wall, tested negative for lead contamination in June, France Inter and Radio Network reported. tests at schools and day care centers immediately after the fire showed low levels of metal and were cleaned, according to official Paris authorities.

But suddenly last month, the city temporarily closed two schools in nearby neighborhoods just outside Notre Dame, and authorities discovered dangerous levels of lead particles in the facilities.

Following the closure, Deputy Mayor of Paris Emmanuel Gregoire told the LCI television news channel that the schools will be thoroughly cleaned and tested before students return in September. He insisted there was no "health risk" and it was simply "more convenient" to close the schools to start decontamination.

A report from a regional health agency earlier this month said that 16 children in 175 tested by fire showed blood levels of lead that should have been monitored but did not qualify the cases as lead poisoning. Two children showed levels of lead in the blood above the threshold, which was considered safe, but officials checked whether one of the cases was connected instead of leading to the child's home.

According to the World Health Organization, there is no known level of lead exposure that is safe. It says young children are more vulnerable to lead poisoning, which can cause damage to the brain and nervous system.

The French authorities mainly focus on the immediate area around Notre Dame, but have recently turned their attention to the neighboring areas. When Notre Dame ignited, wind from the east blew smoke in the Left Bank neighborhoods southwest of the cathedral.

Inspectors recently visited a business just across the river on the Left Bank near the site of Saint Michel. Pascal Londy, owner of La Fontaine Saint Michel, is awaiting the results of lead tests conducted at his cafe.

His employees may need to get blood tests if lead is found there. Although Londo says he is not worried, he believes authorities have waited too long to signal businesses and run tests.

"They had to intervene faster," he said. "Fifteen days, three weeks …" Hey, there's lead. We will take care of this immediately. "Not three months later."

Workers wear masks while inspecting the damaged cathedral on Monday.

Thomas Samson / AFP / Getty Images


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Thomas Samson / AFP / Getty Images

Workers wear masks while exploring the Cathedral's damaged area on Monday.

Thomas Samson / AFP / Getty Images

Regarding recovery workers, the new protocols include decontamination showers and protective suits that must be left in place. Officials have rejected calls from environmental and labor groups to seal Notre Dame from plastic to prevent more lead dust from escaping.


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