Lead paint still harms children, experts warn

Lead poisoning in children may be a bigger public health issue than previously thought, experts have warned.

The Health Protection Agency (HPA) said even low levels of lead exposure, such as peeling paint in dilapidated homes and school buildings, could be damaging children in the UK.

The HPA has called for more research to determine how relatively low levels of lead in the blood may affect a child's development. The sale of lead paint was prohibited in the late 1980s, but in older buildings where it remains it can deteriorate and peel or be disturbed.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) presently recommends attempts are made to ensure that at least 98 per cent of children have blood-lead levels of less than 100 micrograms per litre. But toxicologists at the HPA's Chemical Hazards and Poisons Division said this level may not be appropriate in the UK and children may be damaged by lower concentrations.

Experts at the HPA's scientific conference at Warwick University said more research was needed. Virginia Murray, a professor of toxicology, said their main concern was exposure to lead from paint in buildings built before 1960. "Lead paint was ubiquitous in this country, it was everywhere," she said.

The HPA has been notified of five cases of lead poisoning in children this year, but Professor Murray said this could be "just the tip of the iceberg".

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