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Notre Dame restoration halted amid lead contamination concerns

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A French environmental group is planning to take the city to court

View of damaged Notre Dame cathedral. Shutterstock

The Notre Dame fire in April was more than a loss of an architectural wonder—it’s also a public health issue. Recent reports in French news sites Le Monde and Mediapart say that the fire had caused significant environmental damage, raising the level of lead in the areas surrounding the cathedral from 10 to 800 times beyond what is considered safe.

According to CityLab, Notre Dame’s roof structure was clad in more than 400 tons of lead, which, when heated to a melting point, emitted plumes of smoke laden with toxic particulates that showered the neighboring areas with a fine dust.

This lead-filled dust, which is toxic in elevated amounts, has spurred the closing of two nearby schools and stopped work on the cathedral site, where lead levels are highest. The city, which claimed a testing of the areas around the cathedral were at safe levels, has come under fire for not communicating the contamination earlier. The challenge, as scientists see it, is that Paris has no established limits on lead levels in open-air streets, which tend to have higher levels than indoors (the maximum indoors is 1,000 micrograms of lead per square meter).

In response, French environmental nonprofit, Robin des Bois, is planning to sue the city for negligence. Stay tuned for updates.