It would also be too good to be true if everything continued to run smoothly. A year before the planned reopening of Notre-Dame in Paris, which was damaged by a major fire in April 2019, on December 8, 2024, there are calls for the construction work to be interrupted. The reason: the restoration of the roof, which was completely destroyed in the inferno, with lead, which is considered harmful to health. In the first few months of next year, the lead covering of the roof structure, which has been completed by then, will begin.

French President Emmanuel Macron wants to visit the construction site on Friday. A visit overshadowed by the renewed protest against the use of lead to cover the cathedral’s roof.

Installing lead in the middle of Paris, which is responsible for the deaths of five million people worldwide, means taking responsibility for poisoning the population, warned Environment Senator Anne Souyris on X (formerly Twitter).

In her tweet, the former deputy mayor of Paris in charge of health claimed that no study had been carried out into the health risks of the use of more than 500 tonnes of lead at Notre-Dame. At the end of November, together with environmental and health organizations, they called for a protest on the forecourt of the Paris landmark: They are demanding that construction work be interrupted.

There have been concerns about rebuilding the Notre Dame with lead for some time, particularly in connection with water runoff. In a statement issued in January 2021, the High Council of Public Health estimated that Notre-Dame’s 1,326-panel roof alone would emit approximately 21 kilograms of lead per year in runoff water. In April 2023, the Paris public prosecutor’s office opened a judicial investigation for “endangering others” after a lawsuit was filed by several families and associations that have been warning about the health risks associated with lead since the fire.

“Rebâtir Notre-Dame de Paris”, the public body responsible for the restoration of the cathedral under state supervision, claims to have studied the lead issue with the greatest attention. Its director, Philippe Jost, assured the French press that the cathedral would benefit from an “innovative approach to environmental progress” to reduce pollution from rainwater runoff on the roofs. In addition, the building’s fire protection system was checked and optimized.

The Elysée Palace also reiterated that all precautionary measures have been and are being taken. “Rebâtir Notre-Dame de Paris” will remain in dialogue with environmental and health organizations. In any case, there would be no need to take such extreme measures as halting construction work.

When the church caught fire on the night of April 15, 2019, over 400 tons of lead contained in the roof and spire went up in smoke. The lead dust settled in large quantities on sidewalks, bridges, in public gardens and schoolyards and on the window sills of residents near the cathedral.

After the fire, it took around four months for the area around Notre-Dame to be thoroughly cleaned. As the health authority explained at the time, elevated lead levels in the blood of twelve children were detected. The toxic heavy metal is considered carcinogenic, mutagenic and toxic to reproduction.

Despite the health risks, France’s head of state Emmanuel Macron decided in July 2020, 15 months after the devastating fire, to rebuild the cathedral identically: with a roof structure made of solid oak – 2,000 oak trees were felled for this – and a roof covering and ornaments made of lead.

So far, reconstruction has progressed surprisingly well. The vault pierced by the fall of the spire has been completed, as has the renovation of the north and south gable of the transept, which were affected by the fire. The glass windows restored by the Cologne Cathedral Construction Works have been back for months. And the cathedral’s art treasures, which were saved from the flames, were already exhibited in a comprehensive exhibition at the Cité de l’architecture et du patrimoine at the beginning of the year.

Since the end of November, the outlines of the spire, which is an outstanding feature of the cathedral, have been visible behind scaffolding. The 96 meter high crossing tower collapsed on April 15th shortly before 8 p.m. Its collapse became a symbol of the fire catastrophe.

Although the site is scheduled to reopen on December 8, 2024, there is still a lot of work to be done, notably the restoration of the nave and chancel buttresses. According to Elysée, the project will not be fully completed until the end of the decade, between 2029 and 2030.