Those Billowing White Clouds


Once the disaster was underway there wasn’t anything that could stop the consequences. Unfortunately, I’ve seen buildings with lead paint burn, and that weird glabrous smoke was immediately recognizable.

There was a whole lot of it.

I didn’t see anyone making announcements about “don’t breathe the smoke!” but maybe that’s because it was going pretty much straight up, and the particulate fallout would have been invisible; the air might have tasted a bit sweet and slightly metallic. I remember the flavor of lead from back when I painted miniature figures in the 1970s, until Tom Gervasi was paralyzed from all the lead he ingested licking the paintbrush to straighten the hairs.

Paris has a lead problem, now: [mj]

Three months after the devastating fire at Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris, reports of a new, previously unheeded threat to local residents have emerged: lead poisoning. According to confidential documents leaked to the (paywalled) website Mediapart earlier this month and discussed across French media, locations surrounding the fire-damaged cathedral have registered levels of lead contamination ranging between 500 and 800 times the official safe level. The building’s roof and spire were clad in several hundred tons of the metal, which can be toxic if particles are inhaled or consumed, especially to children. The blaze that consumed the cathedral’s roof liquified oceans of lead and lofted a plume of lead particles across the city.

500 and 800 times the official safe level is mighty unsafe. Not that I would, ever, but I wouldn’t eat any fish pulled from the Seine River for the next couple hundred years.

In a way, the response seems familiar to those who know anything about Chernobyl:

On May 13 – almost a month after the fire the city of Paris first tested lead levels at schools and kindergartens near the cathedral, apparently informing principals in the affected area that there was no significant health risk. Advice made public to residents on and near the¬†√éle de la Cit√©¬†by the Ile-de-France Regional Health Agency meanwhile, went no further than advising everyone to clean away dust with a wet cloth, and seek¬†medical advice “if necessary.”

If you are experiencing possible neuropathy, call us, if you can remember what you’re experiencing.

Toxic lead paint is defined by the US CDC as paint containing 1mg/square meter of lead. So, if you have a building (or a lovely chunk of vintage wrought iron!) painted with the stuff, you should grind it off with a vacuum collector and dispose of the dust bag.

At nearby Place Saint Michel, for example, they have reached as high as 28,400 micrograms per square meter Рalmost six times the usual level.

I guess it’s not as bad as it could be, but there will be rattle-on effects and costs.

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One of the things I remember about my childhood Paris is all the bottled water. Mostly, I figured it was just another way of padding the check at a cafe, but now maybe it’s a good idea.

Comments

  1. says

    I remember the flavor of lead from back when I painted miniature figures in the 1970s, until Tom Gervasi was paralyzed from all the lead he ingested licking the paintbrush to straighten the hairs.

    Licking the tips of paintbrushes is dumb even while using paint that’s not toxic. A slightly moist paper towel is much better for shaping brushes. If you have a round brush, just roll it in your fingers with the tip lightly touching the paper towel. For flat brushes, lightly brush them against the paper towel.

    In a way, the response seems familiar to those who know anything about Chernobyl

    Of course. What else did you expect? Whenever shit happens, those in charge always try to hide or minimize the risk until it becomes so bad that further ass covering becomes impossible and information about the danger leaks out.

    One of the things I remember about my childhood Paris is all the bottled water.

    I just realized that I don’t have any childhood memories about having ever seen bottled water in shops, never mind consuming it. I have childhood memories about seeing all sorts of bottled drinks (juice, milk, soft drinks, alcohol, whatever), but no water at all. Everybody was drinking tap water back when I was a child. If you were away from home for a holiday, you got water from water taps or water pumps in various public places. Or maybe I cannot remember seeing water for sale just because my family was too poor to be willing to pay for water, so I just never paid attention to said shop shelves. Anyway, my first memories about bottled water involve carbonated one or at least mineral water. I suspect that the acceptance of buying regular drinking water became widespread only relatively recently in Eastern Europe. This is actually pretty stupid. Nowadays tap water is much better than in the Soviet times. Lots of European money was invested in improving the infrastructure for tap water.

  2. Ketil Tveiten says

    This talk of bottled water and lead poisoning reminds me once again that, Boy am I happy to live in Norway, where {whatever} works and things are good.

  3. Allison says

    Toxic lead paint is defined by the US CDC as paint containing 1mg/square meter of lead. So, if you have a building (or a lovely chunk of vintage wrought iron!) painted with the stuff, you should grind it off with a vacuum collector and dispose of the dust bag.

    Bad idea.

    Grinding lead paint, or anything containing lead, releases a lot of lead-containing dust, which is far more dangerous than a surface containing lead. Lead dust is more easily absorbed by the body.

    I know this because we were doing lead paint remediation in our house, and I looked into the recommended ways of dealing with it. You want to do it in full containment, with a negative-air machine with a HEPA filter, you want to wear tyvek suits and masks with HEPA filters while working in the area (and leave them in the changing room when you leave), and the resulting waste needs to be treated as toxic waste. Also, once you’ve gotten the lead paint (or whatever) off, you still need to seal the surface with something that prevents the lead from leaching through, since you’ll never get rid of all of the lead.

    FWIW, there are manuals for doing lead remediation from the US government. I remember we obtained them (I think we ordered paper copies, but that was 20 years ago.)

  4. komarov says

    Of course. What else did you expect? Whenever shit happens, those in charge always try to hide or minimize the risk until it becomes so bad that further ass covering becomes impossible and information about the danger leaks out.

    It’s probably also cheaper. If you tell people about some toxic fallout straight away, they’ll expect you to clean it up before anyone gets hurt. If, however, you wait a few years until people start wondering all the sick and dead, you can just go, “Oh dear, so sorry,” and pay the survivors a token sum. Or, as is often the case with ever mobile politicians, “Not my responsibility, but that’s [my old office’s] problem, I’ve already moved on.”

    Another demotivator: if you are the elected official who launches a clean-up, you get blamed for burning a hole in some budget, whereas your successor is likely the one who gets to declare the end of the dreadful [thing]. On the other hand, a scandal where you, through inaction, harmed hundreds or thousands of people, is probably only ever a small bump on the career path of the political professional.

  5. EigenSprocketUK says

    Adding to #5, specific to mercury, the origin of the English phrase “mad as a hatter” is another grim marker of industrial poisonings.

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