An Environmental Group Is Suing Paris Authorities Over Toxic Fallout From the Notre Dame Fire

Campaigners say officials did not do enough to reduce the health risks of lead pollution to workers, local children, and pregnant women.

Workers secure part of Notre-Dame cathedral, two weeks after a fire devastated it, April 29, 2019. French environmental campaigners Robin des Bois said about 300 tonnes of lead from the cathedral's roof and steeple had melted in the blaze. Photo by Kenso Tribouillard AFP/Getty Images.

An environmental protection group in France is suing authorities in Paris for neglecting to warn the public about the risk of toxic lead particles entering the air after the fire at Notre Dame. The lawsuit launched by the Robin des Bois (Robin Hood) group alleges that officials in Paris “deliberately” put people in danger by not doing enough to protect the public from pollution caused by the fire in April, which destroyed the cathedral’s lead-covered spire and much of the medieval building’s roof. 

The environmental campaigners filed the suit after exceptionally high levels of lead were found in the air after the fire. Hundreds of tons of the metal melted during the blaze, causing toxic particles to enter the air, which settled across the local neighborhood.

While officials in Paris insist there is no danger to residents, last week they ordered a deep cleaning of schools near the cathedral. Health authorities recommended blood tests for children and pregnant women who live nearby. Meanwhile, two schools running summer programs were shuttered as a precaution.

Construction workers who were working on site to consolidate the cathedral were also sent home after the prefect for Paris, Michel Cadot, admitted that there had been inadequate measures taken to prevent contamination. Extra safety measures are now being introduced, according to the French paper Le Figaro.

Robin des Bois’s lawsuit has been filed against the “relevant authorities, including the diocese, [which] neglected to assist residents, visitors, and workers, allowing them to be exposed to the toxic fallout,” the Guardian reports.

Jacky Bonnemains. a spokesman for the 'Robin des Bois' association for environmental protection, shows a map of lead content on the Notre Dame cathedral site, in Paris, on July 29, 2019. Photo by Bertrand Guay/AFP/Getty Images.

Jacky Bonnemains of the Robin des Bois association for environmental protection shows a map of lead content on the Notre Dame cathedral site, July 29, 2019. Photo by Bertrand Guay AFP/Getty Images.

Soon after the fire, the Paris police recommended locals wipe down surfaces, and that children and pregnant women wash their hands more often, but it was a whole month before officials began testing the surrounding area for lead. The activist group says that French officials should have immediately taken measures to mitigate the threat to public health.

In serious cases, lead poisoning can cause brain and nerve damage, and children are particularly vulnerable. The suit accuses health agencies, government officials, and the City of Paris of “deliberately putting people in danger” by delaying action to reduce possible contamination.

The CGT firefighter’s union is also worried that insufficient measures were taken to decontaminate equipment after hundreds of firefighters tackled the blaze. A representative for the organization told France Info that the group has written to authorities to check whether there has been sufficient follow-up medical care for the firefighters.

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