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Lead fallout from Notre Dame fire mapped in honey

In a study published this summer, a team of Canadian and French researchers studied honeys from beehives in the Paris region to trace lead pollution linked to the Notre Dame Cathedral fire of spring 2019.

Lead fallout from Notre Dame fire mapped in honey

Publication date: 03/09/2020

General public, Press, Research

Related themes : Earth System Science

The fire at Paris Cathedral on April 15th  2019 completely destroyed the roof of the building and released smoke rich in the lead it contained into the atmosphere, causing a pollution episode.

To estimate the distribution of this lead (Pb) fallout, scientists from the University of British Columbia (Canada), the CNRS at the Institut de physique du globe de Paris – Université de Paris and Beeopic compared honey samples collected from hives in the Île-de-France region before and after the fire and from hives in the Rhône-Alpes region.

The bees, which forage within a maximum radius of 2 to 3 km of their hive, also collect dust from the surrounding area, so their honey is representative of the presence of metals in their environment. By measuring the concentrations of various metals and lead isotope ratios in these samples, the study, published on July 20th in the journal Environmental Science & Technology Letters, found that honey from downwind hives on the evening of the fire had higher lead concentrations than other honeys (although without exceeding the current consumption standards). These concentrations decreased with the distance of the hives from the site of the fire.

The isotope analysis allows us to attribute this increase in lead concentration to the fire and not to other potential sources of Pb pollution (fuel in particular), since the ratios between the lead isotopes in the honey are representative of lead from old buildings in Paris and the surrounding area (roofing, pipes, etc.), which is found in recent sediments and aerosols in the capital.

The study therefore confirms the empirical measurements taken on the ground in the capital after the fire and demonstrates the usefulness of honey for monitoring atmospheric pollution.

Ref: Honey Maps the Pb Fallout from the 2019 Fire at Notre-Dame Cathedral, Paris: A Geochemical Perspective, Kate E. Smith, Dominique Weis, Catherine Chauvel, and Sibyle Moulin, Environmental Science & Technology Letters Article ASAP, DOI: 10.1021/acs.estlett.0c00485

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