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Paris: Notre Dame
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French NGO sues Paris for Notre Dame lead

July 29, 2019

An NGO has filed a lawsuit because of health threats from toxic lead released in Notre Dame Cathedral's devastating fire. Children are especially vulnerable to health problems from lead poisoning, which can be fatal.


A French environmental group has sued officials for endangering human life by failing to quickly contain lead contamination risks after the fire that ravaged the Notre Dame cathedral in Paris in April. Hundreds of tons of lead melted, leading to exceptionally high levels later recorded in the surrounding air.

"The relevant authorities, including the diocese ... neglected to assist residents, visitors and workers, allowing them to be exposed to the toxic fallout," the Robin des Bois (Robin Hood) association argued in the suit, filed Friday but announced Monday. The NGO accuses agencies, officials and the city of "deliberately putting people in danger" by not immediately taking measures to limit exposure.

Read more: Notre Dame celebrates first Mass since fire

Lead pollution can cause neurological defects for humans, especially children, as well as problems with the nervous system and kidneys. Hundreds of tons of lead in the church's roof and steeple melted during the blaze, releasing toxic particles that settled on streets and buildings in surrounding neighborhoods.

Read more: Future of Notre Dame Cathedral wide open

Shockingly high levels

Last week the Mediapart news website reported that authorities waited until a month after the fire to conduct tests in schools within 500 meters (1,600 feet). A test at a primary school showed 698 micrograms of lead per square meter: 10 times higher than the 70-microgram level considered dangerous, Mediapart reported.

Read moreFrench Parliament approves Notre Dame restoration bill

Authorities insisted that the contamination poses no danger. About 180 children had attended a summer holiday club at the nursery and primary schools on the Rue Saint-Benoit before the closures.

But, last Thursday, city officials indefinitely shut two schools near the Gothic landmark after tests revealed high levels of lead pollution on a shared playground. City officials also ordered a deep cleaning of neighborhood schools, and health authorities recommended blood tests for children and pregnant women who live nearby.

Prefect Michel Cadot, the government's top official for the Paris region, told reporters last week that authorities had failed to enact strict controls in the heavily contaminated interior of the cathedral and in surrounding areas. Cadot said officials would clean the square in front of the cathedral with a high-powered system tested on a small area close to the church.

Read more: Notre Dame investigators find no evidence of arson in April blaze

Officials also halted cleanup work at Notre Dame after authorities in the Paris region acknowledged that anti-contamination measures had so far proved insufficient.

mkg/jm (AFP, AP)    

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