Beware of the consequences: in a press release, the Senate is sounding the alarm on the impact that could have on the activity and employment of the heritage professions, the possibility of a ban on lead in the European scale. Indeed, the revision of the European regulation called “Reach” and relating to the registration, evaluation and authorization of chemical substances, could well lead to such a decision.
Last spring , the European Chemical Agency (Echa) has launched a consultation on the inclusion of lead in the regulation, more specifically in an annex concerning substances “of particular concern” . On July 21, the Senate’s European Affairs Committee therefore adopted a proposal for a European resolution, addressed to the Government, and a political opinion, intended for the European Commission.
The two texts warn of the need to preserve the sectors linked to heritage, threatened by this possible ban on lead. “The very cumbersome authorization procedure that this would entail, then the ban that would follow after a few years, would represent a prohibitive cost for French companies (very small, small and medium-sized companies) in the cultural heritage”, explain the parliamentarians. Adding: “Their very survival would be called into question in the short term” .
Companies already made aware of preventive measures
The Senate was actually seized by the master glassmakers of the National Trade Union Chamber stained glass, themselves mobilized within the framework of the European consultation. “They are legitimately worried, because the manufacture and conservation of stained glass are inseparable from the use of lead” , underlines the rapporteur for the texts, Catherine Morin-Desailly, centrist senator of Seine Maritime.
Insofar as France alone concentrates more than 60% of the stained glass windows of the Old Continent, and that it shelters the largest surface of stained glass windows in the world, the consequences could be disastrous, possibly go as far as the decline of the activity or its relocation. The risk should therefore not be neglected for the senators, who recall that the malleable and durable properties of lead also guarantee the conservation of old buildings.
“The heaviest impact would be on all professions linked to the restoration and conservation of historic monuments” , estimates Louis-Jean de Nicolaÿ, co-rapporteur and senator LR de la Sarthe. According to him, the companies concerned have long been “sensitized” to the dangers of lead and have taken “the essential preventive measures”.
No proven impact on health
In its press release, the senatorial committee also notes “that no scientific study reports characterized or massive health problems linked to lead among craftsmen and heritage workers”. She regrets in passing “that there is no reliable epidemiological data calling into question in France and Europe the health of workers exposed to lead in the field of cultural heritage” .
The Palais du Luxembourg therefore invites Europe to finance such studies, and to develop, with France, a prevention protocol on construction sites of historic sites and monuments.
At the head of the European Affairs Committee, Senator LR from Pas-de-Calais Jean-François Rapin finally underlines that “precedents for exemptions relating to the banning the use of lead for a specific sector has already taken place in certain areas”, such as crystal. Another exception could therefore be made in favor of the heritage professions concerned.
“This decision would be a real disaster”
At the end of April, the regional delegation of the U2P (Union of local businesses) in Normandy had already expressed its concern, describing the possibility of the European decision as “threat” . The organization, of which the Capeb (Confederation of Crafts and Small Building Companies) is a member, recalled that lead is “essential in the manufacture and renovation of stained glass windows” and that its use is “already supervised”.
An essential component of the structure of stained glass, it allows the pieces of glass to be held together, and “no other material can be substituted for this ancestral technique”. U2P Normandie then estimated that a lead ban would lead to the immediate closure of “450 stained glass craft businesses” , in parallel with a “planned disappearance of our heritage”.
The president of the regional branch, Roseline Lemarchand, had considered the absence of authorization as “unthinkable”: “This decision by the European Union would be a real disaster; the stained glass artisans would have no choice but to close permanently”.
In the meantime, professionals therefore seem to have succeeded in making themselves heard by parliamentarians. It remains to be seen what the response of the Government and the European authorities will be.