France’s ‘Robin Hood’ group sues over toxic contamination from Notre-Dame fire

The activist group has said French authorities failed to sufficiently warn residents about lead poisoning

FILE - In this Tuesday April 16, 2019 file image made available by shows an aerial shot of the fire damage to Notre Dame cathedral in Paris. A French activist group has filed a lawsuit over health threats from toxic lead released in Notre Dame Cathedral's devastating fire. Hundreds of tons of lead melted when the April fire destroyed the cathedral's roof and spire, and exceptionally high lead levels were later recorded in the surrounding air. ( via AP, File)
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A group of French activists has filed a lawsuit against French authorities accusing them of failing to contain lead contamination caused during the fire at Notre-Dame Cathedral in April.

The local NGO, Robin des Bois, filed the lawsuit in Paris High Court on Friday alleging that health agencies as well as national and city officials had failed to address the dangers caused by the fire.

The Associated Press reported that Robin des Bois, whose name derives from the fictional English hero Robin Hood, brought the lawsuit on the grounds of deliberate endangerment to human life. Hundreds of tons of toxic lead in Notre-Dame's spire and roof melted during the devastating fire. In the wake of the blaze exceptionally high levels of the dangerous metal were detected in surrounding air.

Last week, officials in Paris ordered schools in the surrounding area be thoroughly cleaned while health authorities have recommended children and pregnant women undergo blood tests. Children are particularly vulnerable to lead poisoning, which can cause brain damage in severe cases.

The French newspaper Le Monde reported the Paris regional health authority was continuing to monitor the levels of lead poisoning in the immediate area. Historians and scientists are still in the process of creating an inventory of the lead, some 450 tons, which formed the roof of the cathedral. The very thin leaden sheets, which were only 5 millimetres thick, were exposed to temperatures of at least 600°C and possibly much higher. Lead liquefies and partially vaporises at 327° C.

A spokesman for Robin des Bois told Euronews said the group had filed the lawsuit partially over authorities' failure to alert the public.

"Authorities should have broadcast ... live information to encourage people to evacuate [areas] where several thousand gathered to watch, incite residents of the neighbourhood to close their windows and leave their balconies. Because everyone watched like it was a firework without understanding that this odourless, beige and yellow smoke was toxic," Jacky Bonnemains said.

"As early as April 19, we said the Cathedral should be considered as a contaminated site," Mr Bonnemains continued. "But it was only on June 10 that companies specialising in the decontamination of polluted sites were consulted — almost two months after the blaze," he added.

Donors around the world have given a total of $946 million (DH 3474m) in donations following the fire that came disastrously close to destroying the Notre-Dame Cathedral. On Monday France’s culture minister signed an agreement pledging transparency in how the funds were allocated for reconstruction.