This month’s revelations, however, suggest that the official response fell far short of the mark, and that the city erred in failing to inform residents of potential dangers . They report that lead levels at some schools, which are being used at times during the summer vacation for children’s leisure facilities, have registered levels up to ten times higher than that at which an alert is normally triggered.The city’s reaction to the allegations has been complex and not entirely reassuring. “All the data that we have been able to collect so far show that the health of the population has been preserved,” insisted the director of the regional health authority on July 19. Lead levels surrounding the cathedral are unquestionably high, but the safe level they exceed—1,000 micrograms of lead per square meter—is one specified for enclosed indoor spaces. Paris has no official limit on lead contamination levels in public roads, and due to the historic use of lead in building materials, piping, and as a vehicle fuel additive, the average presence for a Paris street is around 5,000 micrograms per square meter. Meanwhile, local rules state that any school building should be evacuated and thoroughly cleaned if interior lead levels reach 70 micrograms per square meter. While elevated levels are always a cause for concern, the health authority says that “average levels of samples taken in schools are below the standards and do not justify a health alert.”But that’s only true, say the journalists of Mediapart, if you take an average of readings across a single building. While an overall average may suggest a safe level, lead concentrations in some schoolyards have in places shown to exceed the city’s baseline. Exposure of children in these spaces may not be extreme enough to provoke symptoms of acute lead poisoning—which include reductions in metal capacity, kidney damage, hypertension, anemia, and reduced immunity. But there is in fact no threshold below which exposure to lead can be deemed safe. The long-term public health effects of chronic lead exposure on children in low-income urban areas is a topic of much ongoing debate—lead poisoning has been linked to the 1980s crime rise in U.S. cities, for example. The effects of a mass exposure on children near Notre-Dame are difficult to anticipate.This also goes for other areas of the city. Although the city has closed off the area immediately surrounding the cathedral, levels of lead in open areas just beyond the perimeter remain alarmingly high. At nearby Place Saint Michel, for example, they have reached as high as 28,400 micrograms per square meter—almost six times the usual level.It’s perhaps understandable that the city might wish to get Paris back to normal as quickly as possible after the fire, which struck one of the city’s historic icons . But the ongoing fallout is likely to make the upcoming lawsuit against the city extremely uncomfortable, as their potential negligence will come under scrutiny. “When the fire was raging, the authorities knew that there were several hundred tons of lead between the roof and the spire,” Charlotte Nithart, the director of the Robin Des Bois told the newspaper Le Parisien. “They should have immediately taken measures of confinement, or have removed the population.”
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