The areas closest to the recently burned Notre Dame are closed due to unsafe levels of lead contamination reaching between 32 and 65 times the limit recommended by French health authorities of 0.3 grams per kilogram, reports the Associated Press.
France banned the use of lead in paints in 1948 but the 12th-century cathedral's roof and infrastructure largely consisted of the toxic chemical element. The roof of the cathedral melted, releasing high levels of lead that may have made its way to the outside plaza, homes, buildings, and adjacent roads. Additionally, hundreds of tons of lead were used in the construction of the cathedral’s frame and the church spire that collapsed during the fire, the Weather Channel reports.
Two weeks following the blaze, officials advised those around the Notre Dame to clean surfaces with a damp cloth where lead dust may have settled. However, police issued a statement Thursday that there is no risk of toxic inhalation from the air, and that the high levels are confined to the now-closed land nearest the cathedral, reports The Guardian.
According to the Mayo Clinic, lead poisoning occurs when lead builds up in the body over a long period of time and is particularly dangerous to children younger than 6 and pregnant woman. However, even a small amount of lead can be dangerous to vulnerable groups and very high levels have proven to be fatal.
“Lead-based paint and lead-contaminated dust in older buildings are the most common sources of lead poisoning in children. Other sources include contaminated air, water and soil,” notes the clinic, adding that there is a treatment for lead poisoning but its detection can be difficult with signs and symptoms not normally appearing until dangerous amounts have already built up in the bloodstream.
A statement sent to government officials by the French environmental group Robin des Bois asks that all waste associated with the wreckage be considered toxic and that an outlined method of handling such waste be put into action as soon as possible.
“It is really important that the streets of Paris are analyzed for lead as soon as possible and before it starts to rain,” said chemistry professor Michael Anderson in an accompanying post. “This is unlikely to be a problem of air pollution but of solid particles on the ground. It could be carried by waterways.”
[H/T: Associated Press]