Paris Cleans up Lead Pollution in Streets and Schools Months After Notre Dame Fire

By David Vives

After the blaze comes the lead pollution.

The smoke from the fire at France’s Notre Dame cathedral in April carried over 450 tons of lead from the cathedral’s roof and spire, and scattered it across streets and nearby buildings.

Six months later, a few hundred of yards from the cathedral, a decontamination team is working inside the SEGPA school in Paris’s 6th district, where tests showed a high rate of lead contamination. The decontamination is part of a city-wide process that started in early August.

“In this courtyard, and on the third courtyard where we operate, we have a rate of 42,000 micrograms of lead per square meter,” Séché Director of Industrial Operations Mickael Prestavoine said. His company works on emergency chemical decontamination.

French safety guidelines say lead levels above 1,000 micrograms per square meters is dangerous for children.

Seche Group Operation Director Mickael Prestavoine stands in front of SEGPA school during a chemical decontamination. (David Vives/NTD)

This isn’t the only place where lead levels are high. At the tourist hot-spot Place Saint Michel, it’s 20,000 micrograms of lead per square meter.

Earlier this month, an article in the New York Times pointed to the mayor of Paris as being at fault for not starting the cleanup before school started, despite having done lead tests a month after the fire.

Jacky Bonnemains, the president of French environmental association Robin des Bois, has been calling on the mayor of Paris to take action since the Notre Dame fire broke out in April. The association filed lawsuit on July 30 against mayor’s office for “endangering the safety of the public.”

“The Mayor’s office said it was looking to national and regional agencies responsible for monitoring public health risks to take the leed. After media pressure, however, the mayor’s office took action,” Bonnemains told NTD.

Environmental Association Robin des Bois founder Jacky Bonnemaisn was one of the whistleblowers on lead pollution in Paris’s streets and school. (David Vives/NTD)

“In our opinion, everything has been done to stifle the health issue. The decontamination operation come very late, very late. They didn’t do it right away so as not to interrupt the start of the school year, they didn’t want us to talk about the problem,”Bonnemains said.

Tests on the Seine River’s water also showed lead pollution.

One after the other, Paris schools are now being decontaminated. Meanwhile, the government is recommending parents bring children under seven years old to the doctor to monitor their lead levels.