Sydney fire prompts rush to replace pipe organs

The blaze that ravaged St Barnabas church on Sydney's Broadway last week has prompted calls by an environmental lobby to phase out traditional pipe organs which it says risk spewing lead poison into the air in the event of a fire.

According to the Sydney Morning Herald, the Lead Group, which is committed to ending all use of lead, says pipes in traditional organs contain 30 to 75 per cent of the metal.

It wants new European Union laws severely restricting lead in electrical equipment, including pipe organs, to be replicated here.

Britain's Salisbury Cathedral recently told The Times in London that the laws may force it to replace its organ with a piano.

Elizabeth O'Brien, president of the Lead Group, said lead could escape when an organ was burnt or repaired: "The risk is real. I wouldn't want to be around a church fire."

In 1996 an arsonist set fire to the organ in Parramatta's St Patrick's Catholic Cathedral, destroying the instrument and the church.

The cathedral's dean, Fr Peter Williams, when asked if he held any health fears, said: "Heavens, no. I have played the organ since I was 12. I have never had any concerns.

"My father was a scrap metal merchant so I know how dangerous lead can be. It's ludicrous to suggest there are any problems with pipe organs."

John Parker, an organ builder from North Rocks, said if anyone was threatened by lead pipe organs, it was him.

"I have been an organ builder 30 years and I haven't fallen over. I don't believe there has been an organ builder in history that has died from working with lead." Lead "makes the sound a lot brighter" and metal from refurbished pipes was recycled.

Mr Parker said Australia's organ builders had lodged written objections to the European laws.

A soprano with the Beethoven Society choir, Ms O'Brien admitted that she was a fan of organs. "I have sung with the Opera House and Town Hall organs." But whenever she performed, "I am just grateful the place is not on fire."

Fire ignites push to take heavy metal out of piped music (Sydney Morning Herald 15/5/06)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
St Patrick's Cathedral, Parramatta

Catholic empathy for Anglicans after Sydney church burns (CathNews 11/5/06)

16 May 2006