France: Groups want Notre Dame enclosed during lead cleanup

Better Health & Wellness

Notre Dame cathedral is silhouetted as environmental groups and unionists attend a news conference to warn against lead particles polluting the air in the area, and ask for a regularly updated chart showing pollution levels in Paris, France, Monday, Aug. 5, 2019. Hundreds of tons of toxic lead in Notre Dame’s spire and roof melted during the April fire. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)

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PARIS (AP) — Environmental groups and one of France’s largest labor unions called Monday for a containment shield and other safety measures to ensure decontamination work at Notre Dame Cathedral does not expose workers and residents to unsafe levels of lead.

The Paris regional administration suspended the job of removing hazardous substances from the fire-ravaged Paris cathedral last month under pressure from labor inspectors concerned about health risks for workers.

The administration had said that when the lead-removal work resumed, stricter safety procedures, new equipment and allowing much fewer workers inside at a time would “prevent any release of polluting elements to the outside.”

But representatives from environmental groups and the CGT union said at a news conference Monday they don’t think the government safeguards go far enough.

They asked for a regularly updated chart showing the level of lead in the air. Labor and environmental groups are also pushing for the creation of a medical center to monitor of firefighters, workers and residents.

Paris Deputy Mayor Anne Souyris said updated measurements of lead levels are set for release on Tuesday.

The decontamination work is scheduled to resume Wednesday, starting with the square in front of Notre Dame and adjacent streets, Souyris said.

Hundreds of tons of lead that was in Notre Dame’s spire and roof melted during the April 15 fire, which came close to destroying the cathedral.

Lead levels remain elevated at some spots inside and in the soil of the adjacent park and forecourt, according to the Paris regional health agency. Those areas have been closed to the public since the fire.

The environmental activists and union officials said they want a containment shield built over Notre Dame to keep more lead from being released into the atmosphere.

“For the efficiency of the decontamination measures within the area, it is absolutely necessary that the site is confined”, Annie Thebaud-Mony, co-founder of health and environment group Henri Pezerat, said.

Notre Dame rector Patrick Chauvet acknowledged that lead can escape into the environment from a big hole in the cathedral’s roof but ruled out building a containment shield before the decontamination work resumes.

Paris authorities ordered new checks of schools and day care centers in the Notre Dame neighborhood and recommended blood tests for children under age 7 and pregnant women who live nearby.

Children are especially vulnerable to health problems from lead poisoning and exposure.

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