Sep 14, 2019

Report: 460 tons of lead burned during Notre Dame fire, posing public health risk

Photo: Chesnot/Getty Images

The fire that consumed the Notre Dame Cathedral this April subjected the public, including schools, day care centers and parks in Paris to "alarming levels [of] lead," and revealing a possible "failed official response," according to a new report from the New York Times.

The impact: After 460 tons of lead burned from the cathedral's scorched roof and spire, it left more than 6,000 children under age 6 vulnerable to lead contamination, found the Times. Children under 6 and pregnant women are the most vulnerable since it can interfere with the development of the nervous system and lead to cognitive problems.

  • Those exposed to the highest levels of lead are the cathedral's restoration workers, who wore no protection, and received no training about lead exposure when they began decontamination efforts.

The state of play: French officials ordered their first lead test a month after the fire, even though they understood exposure could be an issue within 48 hours after the fallout, per the Times. They waited 4 months to completely decontaminate the area around Notre Dame as children attended school.

The big picture: Public concern over lead contamination has increased since it became clear that French authorities have failed to fully share the results of lead contamination tests, says the Times.

  • "[D]elays and denials have opened the authorities to accusations that they put reconstruction of the cathedral" above the health of thousands of people, per the Times.
  • "They thought that they would protect people by not communicating about the lead issue,” Anne Souyris, the city's deputy mayor in charge of health said, per the Times.
  • Souyris added with the age of the city's infrastructure, the lead problem "long predates the Notre-Dame fire."

Tests found levels of lead dust above French standards near at least 18 day care centers, preschools and primary schools.

  • Schools opened this month in Paris for the new academic year, but some private schools remained closed over fear of contamination.
  • The Regional Health Agency did not confirm there was lead contamination until May 9.
  • 8.5% of 400 children tested had levels of lead above French regulations, per the Times.

Go deeper:

Go deeper

The lead-pipe danger lurking underground

A lead service line water pipe is exposed by a City of Flint, Michigan work crew as workers prepare to replace the pipe at a home with high lead levels in drinking water. Photo: Bill Pugliano/Getty Images

Households across the country may be at risk of drinking lead-tainted water as lead pipes age underground and municipalities struggle to balance high replacement costs with a slew of other urgent infrastructure projects.

Why it matters: Exposure to any amount of lead is highly dangerous, especially for children. The public health disasters in Flint and Newark have dominated headlines, but more than 6 million lead service pipes are buried beneath U.S. cities — and the Government Accountability Office believes that's a low estimate.

Go deeperArrowSep 18, 2019

2020 general election debate schedule announced

A presidential debate being filmed in Las Vegas. Photo: Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call via Getty Images

The Commission on Presidential Debates on Friday revealed the 2020 general election debate schedule and locations, as well as details on the vice presidential debate.

Details: Each debate will begin at 9 pm ET, and have a 90-minute runtime with no commercial breaks. The commission will announce the particulars about next year's general election debates, including format and moderators, in 2020.

Go deeperArrowOct 11, 2019

EPA plans overhaul on testing water for lead contamination

The water plant in Flint, Michigan. Photo: Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

The EPA plans on issuing a proposal that would change how communities test their drinking water for lead and force quicker action when water is contaminated, the Washington Post reports.

Why it matters: This proposal is the first update to the EPA's lead and copper rule in nearly three decades and would — theoretically — prevent another situation like the one that took place in Flint, Michigan, from arising.

Go deeperArrowOct 10, 2019