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Lead Decontamination Closes Streets Around Notre Dame Cathedral

Health + Wellness
People observe the damage to Notre-Dame de Paris from the April 15, 2019, on May 1. Jeanne Menjoulet / CC BY-ND 2.0

Paris officials sealed off the area around the Notre Dame Cathedral to remove lead particles that have settled after a devastating fire destroyed the iconic cathedral's roof and spire in April.


After the April 15 blaze, tons of lead melted and dispersed to the surrounding area, landing on homes, shops, schools and the streets. On Tuesday morning, police closed off an area around the cathedral to vehicles and pedestrians while workers put up a barrier fence for the 10-day cleanup to begin. The nearby train station was also closed and buses were rerouted to avoid the cleanup site. It is a priority to make sure schools and day care centers are decontaminated before a new school term starts in September, according to The Guardian.

"After the melting of at least 300 tons of lead in the gables of the spire and in the roof, Notre-Dame de Paris is now a polluted site," French environmental group Robin des Bois said in a statement, as CNN reported. "The cathedral has now become filled with toxic waste."

The cleanup crews will use two decontamination techniques for the surrounding neighborhood on Ile de la Cité, according to the cultural ministry. One method will use high-pressure water hoses with chemical agents to remove lead debris. The other involves slathering an adhesive gel on benches, streetlights, mailboxes and other fixtures to absorb the lead. After the gel dries for several dies, experts then vacuum it up with the hope that it will remove all the lead. The project should take nearly three weeks to complete, as the AP reported.

The painstaking work of decontaminating and cleaning the cathedral was suspended on July 25 after concerns were raised about the safety of the workers. Activists and nearby residents accused Paris officials of underestimating the threat of lead poisoning, according to the AP. The break from work also allowed the workers to miss the crippling heat that set new high-temperature records at the end of July. The work will resume again next week with high temperatures predicted in the lower to mid-70s.

"Our priority is to foresee any risk that could affect employees working on the site," Michel Cadot, the prefect, said in a statement, as CNN reported. "With new safety protocols and the delivery of two new decontamination units, the quality of lead decontamination of workers, machinery and equipment will be optimized. Thus, the site will continue to be safely ramped up."

The threat of lead came to the forefront last week when Paris officials announced that a young boy needs monitoring since he is at risk of lead poisoning. So far, 162 children who live near Notre Dame have been tested for lead poisoning since the fire. From that cohort, 16, or nearly 10 percent, tested just shy of "at-risk" and warrant monitoring and future testing, according to Fox News.

"We have to realise that the 400 tons of lead that were spread corresponds to four times the lead emissions in the whole of France for a year," said Annie Thébaud-Mony, research director at the National Institute for Health and Medical Research, as The Guardian reported. "Lead is as bad as asbestos in terms of poison. At the time of the blaze, the firefighters should have been better protected, in my opinion. The same goes for those who began work (on the cathedral)."

President Emmanuel Macron has set a five-year target to complete renovations on the 850-year-old cathedral.

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A volcano erupts on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island on Dec. 9, 2019. Michael Schade / Twitter

A powerful volcano on Monday rocked an uninhabited island frequented by tourists about 30 miles off New Zealand's coast. Authorities have confirmed that five people died. They expect that number to rise as some are missing and police officials issued a statement that flights around the islands revealed "no signs of life had been seen at any point,", as The Guardian reported.

"Based on the information we have, we do not believe there are any survivors on the island," the police said in their official statement. "Police is working urgently to confirm the exact number of those who have died, further to the five confirmed deceased already."

The eruption happened on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island, an islet jutting out of the Bay of Plenty, off the country's North Island. The island is privately owned and is typically visited for day-trips by thousands of tourists every year, according to The New York Times.

Michael Schade / Twitter

At the time of the eruption on Monday, about 50 passengers from the Ovation of Seas were on the island, including more than 30 who were part of a Royal Caribbean cruise trip, according to CNN. Twenty-three people, including the five dead, were evacuated from the island.

The eruption occurred at 2:11 pm local time on Monday, as footage from a crater camera owned and operated by GeoNet, New Zealand's geological hazards agency, shows. The camera also shows dozens of people walking near the rim as white smoke billows just before the eruption, according to Reuters.

Police were unable to reach the island because searing white ash posed imminent danger to rescue workers, said John Tims, New Zealand's deputy police commissioner, as he stood next to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in a press conference, as The New York Times reported. Tims said rescue workers would assess the safety of approaching the island on Tuesday morning. "We know the urgency to go back to the island," he told reporters.

"The physical environment is unsafe for us to return to the island," Tims added, as CNN reported. "It's important that we consider the health and safety of rescuers, so we're taking advice from experts going forward."

Authorities have had no communication with anyone on the island. They are frantically working to identify how many people remain and who they are, according to CNN.

Geologists said the eruption is not unexpected and some questioned why the island is open to tourism.

"The volcano has been restless for a few weeks, resulting in the raising of the alert level, so that this eruption is not really a surprise," said Bill McGuire, emeritus professor of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London, as The Guardian reported.

"White Island has been a disaster waiting to happen for many years," said Raymond Cas, emeritus professor at Monash University's school of earth, atmosphere and environment, as The Guardian reported. "Having visited it twice, I have always felt that it was too dangerous to allow the daily tour groups that visit the uninhabited island volcano by boat and helicopter."

The prime minister arrived Monday night in Whakatane, the town closest to the eruption, where day boats visiting the island are docked. Whakatane has a large Maori population.

Ardern met with local council leaders on Monday. She is scheduled to meet with search and rescue teams and will speak to the media at 7 a.m. local time (1 p.m. EST), after drones survey the island, as CNN reported.