a poisoned land, lead everywhere in the biosphere

For decades, the plant released tons of heavy metals, including lead and cadmium, into the air, so much so that when it closed in 2003, the 700-hectare area was considered the most polluted in France. The families live there, in Noyelles-Godault and Courcelles-lès-Lens, where the foundry was located, but also in Évin-Malmaison, which is particularly polluted.

It is in this mining town, the poorest in the area, that a team of the “Vert de rage” investigative program, on France 5, took samples on the presence of lead, with the Canadian laboratory TrichAnalytics and a team from the Lariboisière hospital. . The ground under the school slide is tested. That of the soccer field and also of some gardens.

The results, presented on Friday, reveal lead contamination that would be 3 to 5 times higher than the threshold at which contaminated soil would normally be replaced. Worse: in the old factory premises, the rates would be up to 774 times higher than this threshold.

” Angry “

Analysis of thyme leaves and leeks reveals lead levels up to 91 times higher than the legal thresholds. The hair of 29 school children is also checked, indicating exposure to lead. However, it is difficult to draw conclusions from this, for lack of a possible comparison.

These results are considered “at least worrying” by Martin Boudot, the journalist who coordinates this investigation, which will be aired next fall. “We were very surprised with the levels we found. “

With Lille-based toxicologist Jean-Marie Haguenoer, the France 5 team also sought to assess the number of children in the area affected by lead poisoning, the ‘lead disease’ affecting the nervous system, spinal bones and kidneys. By crossing various data, it is estimated that 5,815 children could have been affected between 1962 and 2020. Of which about a hundred for 20 years.

Owner of Évin-Malmaison since 2010, Clarisse Kaczmarek says she is “angry” at what she considers inaction by the public authorities. And she wonders today if it would not be “interest to leave”. “We did not expect pollution that was still so present,” testifies this public service manager, mother of two small children.

“Injustice”

A group of residents is trying to get the courts to acknowledge the state’s inability to control pollution. So far without success. The urban community of Hénin-Carvin (CAHC, 14 municipalities) filed a complaint to ask the state for “the restoration of polluted land” or, failing that, 574 million euros in damages.

“The reparation of an injustice”, explains its president, the socialist Christophe Pilch, who indicates “health, heritage and economic damage”.

The area – five municipalities, 24,000 inhabitants – has been governed since 1999 by a project of general interest (PIG) ​​which limits the use of the land. The state pays for cleaning up to a depth of 50 cm, provided that it has obtained a work permit. Because it is the fact of shaking the earth, thus releasing toxic dust, that would represent a danger, explained the sub-prefect of Lens in 2018.

Contacted, the prefecture of Pas-de-Calais is now referring to the Regional Health Agency (ARS). The latter points out that between 1999 and 2012 “eight screening campaigns” for lead poisoning were carried out on children in the area. The contamination rate, initially high (15% by the standards of the time), fell in 2012 to 2.5%, which remains “above the regional average”.

It also highlights a study that lead dust’s ability to pass into the blood decreases over time. And in 2020 he asked Santé Publique France for an investigation into a possible strengthening of the precautionary measures prescribed in the area. Public Health France has specified that this work will begin “in 2022-2023”.

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