London: Paint on equipment in 50 playgrounds in the UK contains up to 40 times the recommended levels of lead, which may pose a significant potential risk to young children, a new study has claimed.
Scientists from Plymouth University in the UK analysed the metallic content of paints on equipment at almost 50 playgrounds, including some less than a decade old, across the south of England.
They discovered lead content up to 40 times greater than recommended concentrations, along with higher than expected levels of chromium, antimony and cadmium. The study suggests that the levels could pose a significant potential risk to young children.
Existing laws require that all paints containing more than 5,000 parts per million of lead should be labelled with a warning that they must not be applied to surfaces likely to be chewed or sucked by children, researchers said.
Subsequent guidelines adopted in the UK and other countries have recommended new paint is lead-free or contains less than 2,500 parts per million, they said. However, researchers showed that in some instances,
levels of up to 152,000 parts per million of lead were detected in railings, support, handles and gates.
The highest concentrations of lead, chromium and antimony generally occurred in yellow or red paints, but the apparent age and visible condition of the structure or surface was not a good indicator of the concentration of hazardous elements, with some playgrounds having been built as recently as 2009.
Researchers suggest that surfaces should be monitored regularly for condition and, in particular, for flaking and cracking paint, and paint in poor condition should be carefully removed and structures stabilised and repainted with
lead-free paint, or equipment replaced.
"While undisturbed and intact, coatings and their chemical components are relatively safe," said Andrew Turner from Plymouth University. "But once the film begins to deteriorate through abrasion or via exposure to ultraviolet radiation (UV) light and moisture, the paint begins to crack, flake and chalk and metal-bearing particulates are mobilised into the environment," said Turner.
"The effects of lead on human health, including those that impact on the neurological development of children, are well-documented with regard to paint exposure in urban and domestic settings," he said. The findings were published in the journal Science of the Total Environment.