Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
Notre-Dame’s Toxic Fallout (nytimes.com)
95 points by tysone 30 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 37 comments

Lead is one of the most toxic materials that children can be exposed to and the effects last a lifetime. My concern over lead exposure with young children has led to me buying almost nothing from China any more -- the supply chain and manufacturing process there is riddled with examples of lead, formaldehyde, and other toxic materials being used as cheap substitutes. What one of the mayors says in the article is probably true, that some of the lead hot spots around Paris were not caused by the fire but exist from other sources.

Are there particular product categories which we should avoid mostly, or does it apply to anything and everything coming out of China?

Anything and everything, unfortunately.

Just to be clear, everything from Chinese origin or everything manufactured in China? Because in the case of the latter it seems that pretty much everything these days is manufactured there.

>everything from Chinese origin or everything manufactured in China?

Not sure what the difference is between these two.

It's not that every item from China is tainted, it's that the supply chain isn't as trusted and that leads to a higher rate of contaminated products.

>Because in the case of the latter it seems that pretty much everything these days is manufactured there.

Yes, it's a real pain to source alternative products. I used to love the convenience and price of Alibaba, Amazon, and the other front ends for the modern miracle that is Shenzhen. But once I started to read up more on the science of toxic chemicals behind it, it radically changed my view and it's hard to go back.

Anything from retailers that don’t test products for it because they are outside the chain of liability. E.g. Amazon.

Dang. I both live and work within 10 minutes walk from Notre Dame and mostly don't leave the area on a daily basis. I wonder if there is any possibility this is a contributing factor in my recent deteriorating health.

Get a lab test to see if the lead levels in your body are high. Either way will help you to take the next steps and not be afraid.

You can ask for a blood test that measures your lead level in your blood.

Probably also include a hair test. Blood shows what's going on right now, hair includes the last couple of weeks (with some caveats, which the doctor should be aware of so no need to discuss it here, for example hair does not automatically show up in hair proportionally to what was in blood during the time - too many transport phenomena in the body other than mere diffusion).

I now decided that I am going to do this actually, thanks.

If this is linked, then we have a problem considering the population density, tourist flow and all that.

Seems a overblown. For all of the pages of reporting, they only cite two blood test results of kids, and they were both under the 2.5 ug/dL guideline. Many, many children test over this level in the U.S., and in the eighties a large percentage of kids tested over 10.

There's no safe level of lead, the symptoms start at nothing at 0.0ug/dL and increase proportionally.

I don't doubt that's true, but experimentally, detectible harm has only been demonstrated at 2 ug/dl.

In 2014, 4.2% of kids in the U.S. (over 500,000) had levels above 5 ug/dl. I don't mean to say that lead isn't an important thing to reduce, but a few kids with relatively low lead levels in a very small part of one city isn't the story, it's the millions of kids with much higher levels right here in the U.S. The only thing that drives this story is the sensationalism of Notre Dame burning and releasing toxic fumes, not the actual impact on kids.

Yes, but, everyone is exposed to varying degrees and its not uncommon for kids to have above that level.

You can get results for san francisco tests for example. The majority of cases are from lead paint exposure which is very dangerous

It's not uncommon to have heart attacks, does that mean there is a safe level of cardiac arrest?

Notre-Dame was on an island in the middle of the river Seine. It's strange that the article doesn't mention "river" or "water" even once...

Well, the Seine is already a bit of desperate case.

Jacque Chirac (mayor of Paris at the time) famously said in 1988 "I would swim in the Seine within 3 years, with witnesses, to prove the Seine has become a clean river" to illustrate his commitment to clean the Seine.

Spoiler alert, he never swam in it.

Um, I know it's grim news, but... pretty amazing 3D data illustration using Google Earth!

I'm not a fan of how they hacked the scrollbar though

I'm never a fan of this, but on this page the visualization was so compelling I didn't even notice. That's a good bar to set for anyone thinking of stealing our scrollbars. I think a component of it, is that the part that hijacked the scroll bar is really the money shot of the article.

The concern should be another angle as I tried to post another thread. More about the importance of people and media. Whilst anarchies is not useful, all gov cannot be trusted totally.

Why were there over 400 tons of lead on the roof?! (honest question)

To keep the water out. The roof covering was made out of lead, instead of copper or wood shingles.

This. Lead is cheap, easy to work, and does not corrode. It’s actually a pretty neat material. Damn shame that it’s poisonous.

And it is being used on an industrial scale in a place visited by 16 million people a year?!

Yes. If you recall your history classes, materials science has always been as advanced as it is today. Architects and construction teams in the Middle Ages had easy access to fiberglass insulation, polymer vapor barriers, and modern fabrics, but simply chose not to use them, possibly for aesthetic reasons.

In all seriousness, lead (much like asbestos) is a perfectly fine building material so long as you aren't trying to ingest or inhale it. Permanent waterproofing is easy with a material that melts at temperatures possible with fires even prehistoric man was capable of building (it doesn't deteriorate like tar eventually does). They only become dangerous when that's a possibility, such as when paints made from it are deteriorating, when demolition or renovation of a structure is occurring, or in the case of Notre-Dame, when the structure is on fire.

It's unlikely that the new roof on the cathedral is going to be rebuilt using these ancient techniques- but if old construction isn't broken, there's no reason to actively tear it down.


Children are most sensitive to lead exposure.


Lead is far more dangerous for children than adults. The 'think of the children' mentality actually does fit here.


> Young children are particularly vulnerable to the toxic effects of lead and can suffer profound and permanent adverse health effects, particularly affecting the development of the brain and nervous system. Lead also causes long-term harm in adults, including increased risk of high blood pressure and kidney damage. Exposure of pregnant women to high levels of lead can cause miscarriage, stillbirth, premature birth and low birth weight.

God forbid people be protective of their children, which are the most vulnerable persons to toxic products.


I disagree. Lead exposure in children is horiffic, and will lead to developmental disability that will plauge these children for their entire lives. This article is showing how the French officals failed to disclose that schools and daycare centers, where the most at risk part of the population resides, for weeks after they knew. It's not a cash grab, it's good journalism, exposing the governments utter failure to protect our children from a potent neurotoxin.

Lead exposure at these levels is not horrific, keep your pants on.

The phrase "paranoid hogwash" comes to mind. Lead levels are doubtless temporarily elevated in Paris, particularly near the Church. But, humans lived in much higher lead conditions for much longer periods of time than this event. Temporary, modest elevation isn't going to appreciably hurt anyone, including children.

" the tests found lead levels up to 2.5 times the French standard for buildings hosting children"

FWIIW the value of the French limit is 6.5 micrograms per square foot. That limit in America is actually 40 micrograms per square foot, meaning the "contamination" being discussed here is ... well below acceptable US limits. It's not an ideal situation, but I'm pretty sure Munchausen by Proxy syndrome is going to hurt more kids than those temporarily elevated and ruthlessly mitigated (even according to this story) lead levels.

FWIIW the Times assertions that French authorities didn't disclose or failed to inform people is complete nonsense as well; you can find that via reading the story itself, or a simple google search:



I realize it's popular to negotiate with landlords in NYC over lead levels, but this is paranoid horse shit, probably with some dumb political angle like "hey, let's put LED screens and solar panels up in place of Notre Dame's roof."

You read the article for free, friend.

This will have long term serious problems that will then be blamed on previous administrations who didn't know any better. But they know better now.

All the kids in the fallout zone need to be tested for lead levels. Those with dangerously high levels (there is no doubt there will be many based on the environmental levels reported in the article) need to be relocated to areas with lower lead levels. Those with close to high levels need frequent retests, at least every 3 months.

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact