Monday, July 1, 2019

Experts find rising lead levels in surrounding neighborhoods after Notre Dame fire

On April 15, 2019, the Notre Dame in Paris, France was ablaze. Emergency workers and experts were called in to contain the fire and work to preserve the art and relics stored inside the ancient cathedral. Only three workers suffered smoke-inhalation injuries, and the majority of the damage to the building from the fire was to the roof. The historic interior was preserved, as well as the two famous pipe organs that fill the city streets every Sunday morning. The world breathed a sigh of relief that no major damage had been caused, but they may have spoken too soon.

New data from government researchers showed that lead contaminates were released from the structure into the environment. The lead in the building came from the roofing material used in the cathedral, which released large amounts of lead dust into the atmosphere. For weeks after the fire, people living along the area thought that the lead risk was a "localized threat" but now it is believed to potentially affect areas far beyond the Ile de la Cite. After weeks of protests by local environmental groups such as Robin des Bois, local police officials confirmed lead contamination across all of the neighborhoods surrounding the towering cathedral.

People living in the affected areas were asked by the French government to wipe down the furniture in their homes, keep their windows closed, and filter their water as precautions to prevent lead poisoning. Since most of the lead went into the air from the blaze, local officials state that taking these steps can help people living in these areas to protect themselves. However, the effects of lead in the air can last for months and even years after the initial introduction. In fact, lead is an element that does not go away or dissipate. That's why some groups are calling the surrounding neighborhoods an "industrial wasteland".

The World Health Organization states that even a little lead is enough to make a negative impact on the development of children's behavior and IQ. In short, the fire at Notre Dame is significant and galvanizing for France but also for lead advocates worldwide.

The Notre Dame sustained heavy roof damage, spire damage, and interior damage after the accidental fire. The biggest damage, however, could quite possibly be to the children and people surrounding the cathedral. President Macaron has promised to rebuild the cathedral by the 2024 Summer Olympics held in Paris but has failed to come up with a plan to address this issue.

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