How Much Environmental Damage Will Notre Dame’s Lead Roof Cause?

Nicolas Liponne/NurPhoto via ZUMA

We get questions:

That’s a lot of lead. And I am not an expert in how lead circulates in the atmosphere. However, for two reasons I suspect this isn’t too big a concern:

  • Most of the lead melted and fell into the cathedral. I can’t put a number to this, but I imagine that only a tiny fraction was carried away into the atmosphere. Pure lead is quite heavy.¹
  • It’s a one-time occurrence. Lead mostly poses a danger when children are exposed to it for long periods of time. In this case, however, they’ll probably be exposed for only a few days before it all settles or drifts away.

I too would like to hear from an expert about this, but in the meantime my best guess is that the release of lead into the atmosphere is a fairly minor issue.

Note that I’m talking here about the effect on the area surrounding the cathedral. Needless to say, lead contamination inside the cathedral is likely to be a big problem for the cleanup crew.

¹As opposed to the lead in gasoline, which comes in the form of tetraethyl lead. This molecule contains 20 hydrogen atoms, 8 carbon atoms, and one lead atom, which makes it relatively light. It’s still heavier than air, but not so much that it can’t drift quite a distance on wind currents.

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FACT:

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Today, reader support makes up about two-thirds of our budget, allows us to dig deep on stories that matter, and lets us keep our reporting free for everyone. If you value what you get from Mother Jones, please join us with a tax-deductible donation today so we can keep on doing the type of journalism 2020 demands.

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