Notre Dame work creeps forward amid lead pollution fears
A total of 39 different businesses are working to secure Notre Dame cathedral in Paris, six months on from a devastating fire in April that melted the building’s spire and roof, amid fears about lead pollution and work at height risks.
The site can currently accommodate a total of 80 workers simultaneously, having been shut down in July this year to improve measures to protect workers and decontaminate people and vehicles entering and exiting the site amid fears about lead pollution. An estimated 300 tonnes of lead melted during the blaze.
The site reopened in August and now a range of professions including scaffolders, glaziers, builders, crane operators, stonemasons, locksmiths, laboratory analysts, security agents and decontamination specialists are working on the site.
The Paris prefecture said it hoped to ramp the number of workers allowed on site at any one time to 240 by January 2020 after installing new decontamination facilities.
It said it faced a constant challenge of balancing the urgency of work to tackle the ever-present risk of collapse of the cathedral with the security of workers.
Two of the main risks identified by French health and safety officials are around the presence of lead and the danger presented by falls from height. Risks from electricity, stone or other materials falling from height, and the presence of different trades all on site at once have also been identified.
In addition to the safety of workers, the authorities are particularly concerned about ensuring that lead doesn’t leave the building site. The Paris prefecture said tests have allowed it to confirm that the site is effectively sealed from the outside in terms of lead pollution, with a range of measures including protective equipment for workers, showers for decontamination, foot baths to ensure lead isn’t carried out of the site by foot. The wheels of vehicles are also washed and workers’ blood lead levels are being checked regularly.
Debris from the fire is being sorted in marquees around the outside of the cathedral in order to stop dust contaminating the air. Some materials may end up being reused by builders or for research purposes and are being stored on the cathedral parvis until they are moved to designated storage areas. Other waste materials may end up being hermetically sealed and sent to specialist waste handlers depending on their level of contamination.
Michel Cadot, prefect of Paris and Aurélien Rousseau, director general of the Île-de-France regional health agency published a range of measures designed to secure the cathedral and protect the public and workers from lead contamination last week. They said: “The prime minister has entrusted the Île-de-France prefecture and the regional health agency to co-ordinate an effort to tackle the risk from lead, revealed in part by the incident at Notre Dame. This dossier, created in close partnership with all stakeholders since the start, will be led by a steering committee that will meet every week.”
After the fire, French president Emmanuel Macron vowed that Notre Dame would be rebuilt within five years but French architects working on the project have warned of huge challenges amid concerns about the building’s stability.