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Cleanup halted and schools closed amid reports of lead contamination risks at Notre Dame

A French environmental group has lodged a court case over the allegedly dangerous lead levels.

Image: Rafael Yaghobzadeh/PA Images

A FRENCH ENVIRONMENTAL group has said it has filed a lawsuit accusing officials of failing to move quickly to contain the risks of lead contamination after the fire that ravaged the Notre Dame cathedral in Paris last April.

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 neighbourhoods.

Authorities have insisted that any contamination poses no danger, following a media report last week alleging that they had covered up lead pollution levels in local schools.

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.

Cleanup work at Notre Dame was also halted after the top government official in the Paris region acknowledged that anti-contamination measures were insufficient.

“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) NGO said in its lawsuit, filed last Friday.

It accuses health agencies, government officials and the city of Paris of “deliberately putting people in danger” by not immediately taking measures to limit exposure to the contamination.

Lead pollution can cause neurological defects for humans, especially children, as well as nervous system and kidney problems.

Worrying levels

Around 180 children had been attending a summer holiday club at the nursery and primary schools, on the Rue Saint-Benoit, before they were shut.

French investigative website Mediapart reported last week that high levels of lead had been detected in schools and daycare centres surrounding Notre Dame.

Mediapart said that the authorities had waited until a month after the fire before conducting tests in the 10 schools and daycares within 500 metres of the monument on the Ile de la Cite island in central Paris.

One test result, at the private Sainte-Catherine primary school, showed 698 microgrammes of lead per square metre, 10 times higher than the 70-microgramme level considered potentially dangerous, it said.

Prefect Michel Cadot, the government’s top official for the Paris region, told reporters last week that strict controls should have been in place in the heavily contaminated interior of the cathedral, as well as in surrounding areas.

Cadot said the square in front of the cathedral, usually bustling with thousands of tourists and pilgrims, would be cleaned with a high-powered system that had been tested on a small area close to church.

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