Following the Notre Dame de Paris fire, during which hundreds of tons of lead were released into the atmosphere, concern is now rising following articles published in several newspapers announcing that a child living near the cathedral had a blood lead level exceeding the health threshold of 50 micrograms of lead per litre of blood (µg/L).
Lead-laden fumes spread over the western part of Paris for several hours and deposited dust laden with this toxic metal in many districts and in the towns downstream from the river Seine.
Following the report of this case, the health authorities recommended that lead levels be measured for residents’ living near the monument and it is very likely that in the coming weeks other cases of significant exposure to lead pollution will be identified.
What are the effects of lead on health?
It has been scientifically proven that lead affects health at any dose, no matter how low it is.
Lead enters the body through ingestion or breathing (inhalation) and accumulates in the body, especially in the bones.
Lead passes into the placenta and breast milk. Exposure to lead of pregnant or lactating women induces exposure of fetuses and infants that poses a risk to their health.
Lead poisoning mainly affects the nervous system, bone marrow and kidneys. Its effects are greater in children, including learning and intellectual development disorders, but adults are also impacted.
Why do a blood lead test?
The inhabitants of the area over which Notre Dame's smoke plume passed present risks of lead exposure. There is a very high probability that this smoke deposited lead-laden dust in their home.
Therefore, it seems essential to ask your doctor for a prescription for a screening by blood lead test (blood lead level), a test that in France is fully reimbursed by the Assurance Maladie for children and pregnant women.The blood lead level should be as low as possible.
Thresholds have been established by health authorities and it is recommended to have a blood lead level below 50 µg/L (physician reporting threshold to health authorities).
Above this threshold, health effects can appear as developmental (physical, intellectual and psychomotor) and hearing disorders in children or hypertension in adults.
What can be done to eliminate lead?
Lead is present in household dust, and a laboratory analysis of this dust makes it possible to detect and measure lead pollution in the indoor environment.
This pollution can be caused by the use of lead paint. Paint flake analyses must be carried out to accurately identify the surfaces covered by lead paint and decontaminate them. More generally, contamination of the indoor environment is linked to air pollution. The Notre-Dame fire is an example of acute lead air pollution that probably contaminated entire districts in western Paris.
The Paris Police Prefecture recommends that residents of Notre-Dame clean up with a damp cloth (mop or wet rag) to remove dust from the floor and furniture. Authorities also recommend frequent hand washing and frequent washing of children's toys because they can put them in their mouths and ingest dust containing lead residues.
All these actions must be carried out scrupulously to decontaminate your home or office and a lead in dust pollution test makes it possible to evaluate the effectiveness of this decontamination operation.
How is one exposed to lead?
More than any other cause, lead contamination is related to the ingestion and inhalation of contaminated dust. Cases of lead poisoning are most often due to chronic exposure.
Lead is a toxic substance that accumulates in the body and is eliminated very slowly. Its half-life (the time it takes for its blood concentration in the body to decrease by half) is 10 years.
Why is checking the blood lead level not enough?
The blood test will give information at a specific moment about the contamination of one' s organism.
But whatever the result of the plombemy test, it is also important to carry out a complementary lead in dust test in conjunction because this laboratory analysis will determine whether your home or office is contaminated by lead.
Only the dust analysis will determine whether the cleaning was effective enough to remove lead from your indoor environment or whether you need to consult a decontamination professional.
Otherwise, even if your blood lead level test is correct today, the chronic effects of lead deposited in the dust will continue and as you will be unaware of it you will be exposed to a contamination that will have more and more harmful effects it on the health of all occupants of the premises as time goes by.