25th October 2016 – 

The Play Safety Forum is concerned at media coverage, including the BBC One Show, on lead paint in playgrounds. This appears to focus solely on studies that show the presence of the substance. It does not place these findings in context. This does not help audiences to understand the degree of risk and take appropriate preventative measures and it is unlikely to help public bodies to take a proportionate response.

In our experience ill-informed media coverage of playground safety issues has in the past led to disproportionate reactions. The Play Safety Forum is constantly looking at the balance between risks and benefits in children’s play. It would be a great pity if the effects of media coverage were to unnecessarily alarm the public and undermine public bodies in their efforts to take a reasonable, considered approach to playground safety.

The Play Safety Forum supports the position that providers and maintainers of children’s playground facilities always work to the latest published guidance for the lead content of the surface coatings. This currently only allows lead as a trace element of paint. This guidance has been updated periodically over the last 30 years and also rightly focuses on articles that children can place into their mouths, as being the highest risk.

Lead is a leading toxin with a proven link to a range of adverse health outcomes, and is especially harmful to children. Hence its presence in the environment including play facilities, is a matter of legitimate concern. It is important to note that it causes harm only when it is ingested or inhaled. Moreover, according to public health bodies the main risk is through repeated, chronic exposure (such as from lead in drinking water, or lead paint in housing) rather than from acute or a single exposure. A 2012 Health Protection Agency review states that lead is “a classic chronic toxin” and that “few adverse health effects are observed following acute exposure to relatively low levels.”

It is also worth noting that flaking paint is likely to be more hazardous than that which is in good condition, so the usual sensible approach to maintenance should be applied.

We note the advice published on the NHS Choices website. This states that “the best way to prevent your child being exposed to lead is to encourage them to always wash their hands after outside play and before eating.”

Published by: Play Safety Forum 05th October 2016.