Parents let their children spend time in parks because this fosters learning and fun. A new study, however, showed that paint in playground equipment contains 40 times the recommended levels of lead, making play places not so safe at all.

Researchers from Plymouth University examined the level of toxic chemicals found in paint used in 50 playgrounds across the south of England. They specifically looked into the amounts of lead, cadmium and antimony in swings, slides and climbing frames among others. Lead and Cadmium are included in the list of top 10 chemicals of concern by the World Health Organization.

The rule set by Europe in 1977 states that playground paint should not contain more than 0.25 percent lead. In one of the latest investigated parks built in 2009, the researchers discovered a 10 percent lead presence.

If the general consensus established by the United States and most European nations would be referenced, then that playground contains 1,000 times higher than the recommended. This is because the agreed-upon percentage of lead in playground paint equipment is about 0.009 percent only.

An old playground, which may seem less risky because of faded paint, still contains dangerous levels of lead, capable of causing detrimental health consequences.

"You'd expect the older playgrounds to be more dangerous as people have become more aware of the dangers of lead, but our findings suggest that this isn't the case," says study author Dr. Andrew Turner.

Turner explained that play equipment is relatively safe if the paint is still intact. However, when the coating starts to crack and flake due to exposure to UV light and moisture, the little metal substances get distributed around the entire area.

The investigation looked into playgrounds located in Devon, Cornwall, Somerset and Hampshire. Turner says he does not expect highly different findings in other parts of the UK.

In the U.S., Tulane University Professor Howard Mielke was baffled when his daughter was found to have high levels of blood lead during a routine test prior to an eye surgery.

Mielke was determined to find the cause so he followed his child all day and took samples from play areas. It turns out the child care center playground was a hazardous site.

The message now is to encourage parents to be vigilant. Turner says some kids explore the world by putting things in their mouth so it is important to be cautious. He also advises parents to let children wash their hands after playing.

Turner also recommended the implementation of stricter rules to domestic and imported paints and to pre-painted equipment.

The study was published in the Science of the Total Environment journal.

Photo: Mike Cattell | Flickr

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