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A 2017 Time article discussing the crumbling, wearing out, and water damage of France's Notre Dame Cathedral prior to the 2019 fire writes (emphasis added to the part I would like clarification on):

Notre Dame, which looms over the capital from an island in the center of the city, is a constant reminder of Paris’ history. It has seen more than its share of epic dramas, including the French Revolution and two world wars. But now there is another challenge. Some 854 years after construction began, one of Europe’s most visited sites, with about 12 million tourists a year, is in dire need of repairs. Centuries of weather have worn away at the stone. The fumes from decades of gridlock have only worsened the damage. “Pollution is the biggest culprit,” says Philippe Villeneuve, architect in chief of historic monuments in France. “We need to replace the ruined stones. We need to replace the joints with traditional materials. This is going to be extensive.”

Another SE user (smci on Skeptics) wrote:

The quote was ambiguous at best: "The fumes from decades of gridlock have only worsened the damage... “Pollution is the biggest culprit"' : culprit of what? of the fumes? (Clearly not "of the damage" since they only "worsened" it). Don't ask us to guess what the journalist was thinking. There's no point constructing an entire question around one sloppy journalistic sentence.

My interpretation is:

I assume that "The fumes from decades of gridlock have only worsened the damage." is a very simple sentence. It's a way to say that pollution has damaged the cathedral. I don't see why you interpret it as pollution is the culprit of the fumes. The fumes are polllution. As for worsened vs. damaged, the sentence is using "worsened the damage" as a synonym for "damaged."

  1. Am I interpreting things correctly?

  2. What is Villeneuve saying? (i.e. what does his quote mean?) Is the quote by Philippe Villeneuve saying that pollution is the biggest reason for the damage?

  • Please let me know if this question is off-topic! Thanks! – user344551 Apr 19 at 17:14
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    The bolded sentence is perfectly clear. Traffic fumes are the biggest reason for the damage, beyond that already caused by the weather and aging. Bolding two disconnected sentences does not join them. – Weather Vane Apr 19 at 18:01
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    Centuries of weather has done damage. Pollution has added to that damage. The amount of damage done by pollution is greater than that done by weather (according to Villeneuve) – Jim Apr 19 at 21:07
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    What sentence? You haven't specified anything at all. I see that, at one point, you had something in bold. Why in the world did you remove that? Without knowing what specific text concerns you, there is no way of answering this. You've also "invalidated" the current answers—because they are all making assumptions about the part that's confusing, even though you no longer say what's confusing. Either put the bold back in place, or separate out the specific text into its own smaller quote. – Jason Bassford Supports Monica Apr 20 at 2:49
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    If I understand the original comment, it's that the part in bold wasn't (technically) a single sentence. It wasn't a request to remove the bold text—but to rephrase your description of it. – Jason Bassford Supports Monica Apr 20 at 2:52
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It is quite clear to me, that the quotation from Philippe Villeneuve adds to what has already been said, rather than being a cause of contradiction.

Pollution is the biggest culprit

is saying that besides the centuries of decay caused by weather and aging, the damage caused by pollution from traffic fumes has become the biggest factor in the degradation of the structure.

  • +1 Thank you. I will start a bounty in 2 days (the earliest possible). – user344551 Apr 19 at 22:37
  • By the way, could you take a look at this answer on Skeptics Meta relating to the same question? I can't quite understand the criticism. Thanks again! – user344551 Apr 19 at 22:38
  • By removing the bolding in this question, the "emphasis added" makes no sense. – Weather Vane Apr 19 at 22:45
  • Good point, fixed. Thanks. – user344551 Apr 19 at 22:47
  • +1 This is how I would have answered the question. Pollution is the biggest culprit of the stone's degradation. I don't see how the user at Skeptics thought this was ambiguous; it's very clear. – Jason Bassford Supports Monica Apr 20 at 2:58
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Sulfur in gasoline turns into sulfuric acid, which corroded limestone. I don't know if they still use leaded gasoline in France, but it turns things black, as do diesel particulates.

  • I'm sorry, my question wasn't very clear. I will revise it. – user344551 Apr 19 at 22:14
  • Europe hasn't used leaded petrol for decades. – WS2 Apr 19 at 23:01
  • @WS2 Thanks for the insight. – user344551 Apr 19 at 23:25
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    We don't any longer burn witches either! – WS2 Apr 21 at 11:14

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