1 July 2010
Scientists at the Health Protection Agency (HPA) are teaming up with the British Paediatric Surveillance Unit (BPSU) to investigate lead poisoning levels among children in the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland.
Despite dramatic falls in blood lead levels among children since the toxic metal was banned in paint and petrol, scientists believe that there may still be pockets of society where children are exposed to relatively high levels of the substance.
Lead poisoning is associated with reduced IQ and may be linked to behavioural problems among children. The research aims to reveal the age, ethnicity, gender and causes of children diagnosed with raised blood lead levels.
Professor Virginia Murray, of the HPA, said: "There is evidence from studies in the US that raised blood lead levels may still exist in areas where the housing stock is poorly maintained and children are exposed to old lead paint flaking off pipes and walls. Children are known to eat flakes of old paint; a behaviour which is described as 'pica'. There could also be an issue with exposure through some types of imported traditional medicines, imported toys containing lead paint and contaminated soil."
She added: "This study will help to identify the number and causes of children diagnosed with raised blood levels, as well as the groups affected."
Although blood lead levels have dropped substantially since the Seventies, there has been no major study of blood lead levels in children in the UK or Republic of Ireland since the Nineties.
By using the BPSU reporting system, the HPA will analyse data provided by around 3,000 consultant paediatricians who test children for raised blood lead levels if they are showing symptoms of lead poisoning. The HPA funded project is scheduled to last three years although initial results are planned for publication in June 2011.
Richard Lynn, Scientific Coordinator for the BPSU, said: "We are very supportive of this initiative and hope that our involvement will contribute useful data and raise awareness of this public health problem."
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Last reviewed: 1 July 2010