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Notre Dame reconstruction to wait another week on lead clean-up

Aug 10 2019 13:04
Gregory Viscusi

Work on reinforcing Paris’s Notre Dame Cathedral won’t resume for another week to allow time to install new security measures to protect workers and neighborhood residents from lead released during the cathedral’s fire four months ago. Special teams will begin a three-week clean-up of local streets and schools starting next week.

“With the new protocols and the delivery of two new decontamination units, the work site can scale up its work in full security,” Michel Cadot, the prefect for the Paris region, said in a statement late Friday.

Work has been suspended since July 25 after labour inspectors found that basic security procedures weren’t respected, such as staff failing to maintain their protective outfits when in the works area or when entering and leaving the site.

Unions and local associations had called for the Notre Dame work site to be fully sealed off because of the risk of lead poisoning. The idea of putting a dome over the structure was rejected by the prefect, who is the regional representative of the national government.

Melted Lead

About 400 tons of lead melted during the April 15 fire that destroyed the spire and most of the roof of the 13th century monument. There was an earlier clean-up of the area around the cathedral, and the city of Paris initially ruled that while it found traces of lead dust in the neighborhood, there were no health risks.

New tests in local schools and streets were ordered after the work site was closed. The regional health authority said August 6 that four out of 12 local schools showed abnormal levels of lead, and will be re-cleaned. Of 160 children in summer camp at the schools that were tested, six were found to have levels requiring “vigilance” and one was over the safety limit, though it wasn’t immediately clear whether that was due to Notre Dame. Some older Parisian buildings still contain lead structures.

The actual reconstruction of the cathedral roof has yet to begin, with the work so far aimed at evaluating the damage and reinforcing the structure. Later, a contest will be held to pick a design for the spire, which was itself a 19th century addition.

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