Paris orders schools near Notre-Dame cleaned over lead fears

Paris (AFP) –


Local authorities in Paris have ordered a "deep clean" at schools around the fire-damaged Notre-Dame cathedral, a city official said on Thursday, following a media report claiming the extent of contamination had been covered up.

Paris health official Arnaud Gauthier said the cleaning had been ordered "to reassure us that the risk is minimal," adding that the levels of lead pollution caused by the April fire were not a cause for alarm.

Environmental groups warned soon after the disaster that 300 tonnes of lead in the roof of the Paris landmark had gone up in flames, posing a danger to residents in the area, particularly to children.

A report from the Mediapart investigative website on Thursday reported that high levels of lead -- as much as 10 times higher than the safe limit -- had been detected in schools and creches surrounding the cathedral.

It added that Paris authorities had waited until May before conducting tests in the 10 creches and schools that are within 500 metres (yards) of the monument on the Ile de la Cite island in central Paris.

One test result -- in the private Sainte-Catherine elementary school -- showed lead at a level of 698 microgrammes per square metre, 10 times higher than the 70-microgramme limit that is considered potentially dangerous.

Gauthier contested Mediapart's interpretation of the results, saying that the average level of lead found in each school had not surpassed the level of 70 microgrammes per square metre, which he said was a "guidance level".

The deep clean would take place during the summer holidays, he said.

"No school or creche will reopen if there is a risk," he said.

Deputy mayor Emmanuel Gregoire also said their was no danger to the health of those at the schools.

"If there was any risk, not only would schools not have reopened, but they will not reopen in September," he told a press conference.

- Contamination -

During a tour of the cathedral on Wednesday, reporters were told by Culture Minister Franck Riester that workers inside had to wear special masks because of the presence of lead which had seeped into some of the stonework.

The square at the entrance to the cathedral remains closed to the public because of health risks.

In June, Paris health authorities urged children and pregnant women living around Notre-Dame cathedral to have the levels of lead in their blood checked, while residents have advised been to regularly clean their homes.

Lead pollution can cause neurological defects for humans, especially children, as well as nervous system and kidney problems.

Paris police chief Didier Lallement has maintained the area around the cathedral is safe.

"I can't let it be said that people walking in the area are exposed to a risk," Lallement said earlier this month. "I want to reassure the public ... there is no danger except if you lick the pavements."

The French parliament recently passed a law setting out the legal framework for the reconstruction of the cathedral, which President Emmanuel Macron wants completed within the next five years.

Macron created a furore by suggesting the spire which was lost in the inferno could be replaced by a steeple with a contemporary touch.

Paris prosecutors said in June that a poorly stubbed-out cigarette or an electrical fault could have started the fire and opened an investigation into criminal negligence, without targeting any individual.

On June 15, two months after the fire, clerics conducted the first mass inside the cathedral since the blaze, donning hard hats along with their robes for their safety.