Clearing procedures at the Notre-Dame de Paris cathedral resumed on Monday, 19 August, following several weeks of delay due to contamination fears that were previously denied by authorities, France 24 reports.
Moreover, new safety measures such as footbath, regular showers and strict entry and exit rules were introduced for the personnel at the site in order to guarantee workers’ safety as well as to prevent the dispersion of poisonous materials to outside areas, the outlet reported.
The fire that nearly destroyed a historical masterpiece on 15 April 2019 was not only been seen as a tragedy for the world’s cultural heritage, but also caused an outcry from environmental campaigners, as the blaze led to a massive meltdown of hundreds of tonnes of lead – a highly poisonous heavy metal – located in the roof and steeple, the particles of which were then spread by winds beyond the surrounded area.
The authorities first denied the risks of contamination to the surrounding areas during restoration works, admitting only at the end of July that the safety measures that existed before were not sufficient to protect both workers and the nearby areas from contamination, following backlash from the public and environmental campaigners.
The renovation works were then halted on 25 July, following Paris Police Chief Michael Cadot’s orders, due to fears that workers could be exposed to lead poisoning as high levels of contamination at the site were revealed.
The authorities also disclosed that some isolated readings for the playgrounds and windowsills of some schools in a 500-metre perimeter around the site showed more than 1,000 microgrammes of lead contamination per square metre, while the readings of more than 70 microgrammes per square metre could be already considered as potentially hazardous.
Two schools on the Rue Saint-Benoit near the cathedral that were operating for summer programmes were then closed for anti-contamination measures, with workers wearing white hazmat suits were seen in early August while spraying a blue gel onto the schools’ playgrounds. City officials claimed that the gel was used in order to avoid the penetration of lead particles into the ground, as the dried substance was later removed using hoses.
Environmental campaigners and lawmakers have accused city officials of failing to present the public with information about the level of contamination and even filed a lawsuit, according to France 24.
There were some early calls from the public to cover the cathedral’s roof with protective clad to avoid contamination, however, the demand was rejected by the authorities as being too costly and complex.
President Emmanuel Macron has called for the cathedral’s restoration works to be concluded within five years after the fire broke out on 15 April 2019, but critics have accused officials of being too rushed and ignorant of the potential harmful effects of lead contamination to the public health.