Children could be put at risk of lead poisoning at school, due to “higher than expected” levels in playground paint.
Dr Andrew Turner, who led the research, warned: “Given that the total tolerable daily intake of lead for a child under six years of age is 6 microgrammes, the results of this study suggest that very little ingestion is required to present a potential health hazard.”
Although lead poisoning is relatively rare in the UK, lead accumulates slowly in the body, so that even low doses can eventually lead to poisoning.
If children present with symptoms such as developmental delay, irritability, loss of appetite, fatigue and abdominal pain this may be signs of lead poisoning.
Parents should be made aware of the dangers of children sucking or biting painted surfaces or ingesting paint chips, the researchers advised.
“While undisturbed and intact, coatings and their chemical components are relatively safe. But once the film begins to deteriorate through abrasion or via exposure to UV light and moisture, the paint begins to crack, flake and chalk and metal-bearing particulates are mobilised into the environment,” Turner added.
Environmental scientists from Plymouth University analysed the metallic content of paints on equipment at almost 50 playgrounds 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.
They are now calling on schools to carefully remove paint in poor condition, for example or railings, and school equipment, and repaint it with lead-free paint.