High levels of toxic metals have been discovered in paint used on equipment in playgrounds across the south of England, posing a risk to the health of young children.
Environmental scientists from Plymouth University analysed paints used in 50 playgrounds, some of them less than a decade old, and found lead content up to 40 times greater than recommended concentrations.
They also detected higher than expected levels of chromium, antimony and cadmium.
Guidelines in the UK and other countries recommend new paint is lead-free or contains less than 2,500 parts per million.
However, the new research, published in the journal Science of the Total Environment, showed that in some cases, levels of up to 152,000 parts per million of lead were detected, and were most commonly found in yellow and red paints.
Dr Andrew Turner, Reader in Environmental Science at Plymouth University, said:
‘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.
‘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.’
Dr Turner also warned that the results of this research would probably be replicated across the UK.
‘It is difficult to attribute poisoning directly to paint on playground equipment because the effects of lead are cumulative and children may be exposed to a multitude of sources of lead in domestic and urban settings.
‘But previous studies around elevated lead in blood levels and the ingestion of paint chips have strongly suggested that paint is the source of intoxication.’