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Work on Notre Dame halted as concerns rise over lead pollution

A construction worker in front of Notre-Dame de Paris on 24 July 2019. A week later, work was halted over concerns about lead pollution.
A construction worker in front of Notre-Dame de Paris on 24 July 2019. A week later, work was halted over concerns about lead pollution. Rafael Yaghobzadeh/Pool/AFP

Reconstruction on Paris’ fire-damaged Notre Dame has been stopped for a few days as authorities examine safety precautions in the face of recent revelations of massive lead pollution around the cathedral. A group of unions and NGOs has demanded that the worksite be contained, and they have called for the opening of a treatment centre.

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The prefect of the Paris Ile-de-France region said reconstruction work on the cathedral was halted on Thursday “for a few days” in order to clarify precautionary measures for the workers, “who were not applying them well enough”.

A fire on 15 April destroyed Notre Dame’s spire and roof, sending hundreds of tons of lead into the environment. High levels of lead have since been recorded in the area, notably in nearby schools, which have been closed for cleaning.

A collective of CGT trade unions and NGOs has called for authorities to contain the worksite to make sure dust does not get out.

Not doing so will mean more dust on the building and the plaza “and well beyond the limits of the worksite, this dust will add to the initial contamination”, the group said in a statement.

Benoit Martin, of the CGT trade union, suggests that the worksite should be wrapped, and the pressure inside be made less than the pressure outside, to keep lead and other particles from getting out into the air. He said this method was used to contain asbestos during the renovation of the Jussieu university campus at the end of the 1990s.

The group is also calling for the release of an updated map of the lead contamination in the area around the cathedral, and for authorities to open a testing and treatment centre at the neighbouring Hotel-Dieu hospital for all those exposed.

“We consider the seriousness of the situation requires measures that live up to the threats present for those who, for more than three months, live and work continuously on contaminated premises,” said the group.

Last week an environmental protection group filed a lawsuit against the city of Paris, alleging that officials should have taken immediate measures to protect the public against lead contamination.

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