Toxic playground paint warning; DNA affects both health and cognition

New health research covers dangerous lead levels in UK playgrounds, lupus genes in Asians and the link between health and thinking

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 30 January, 2016, 8:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 30 January, 2016, 8:00am

Playground paints should be monitored to reduce potential danger to public health

Beware where your kids play. Analysing the metallic content of paints on equipment at almost 50 playgrounds across southern England, researchers have discovered lead content up to 40 times greater than recommended concentrations, along with higher than expected levels of chromium, antimony and cadmium. In some instances, levels of up to 152,000 parts per million of lead were detected in railings, support, handles and gates – much higher than British guidelines of less than 2,500 parts per million lead in new paint. “Given that the total tolerable daily intake of lead for a child under six years of age is six microgrammes, the results of this study suggest that very little ingestion is required to present a potential health hazard,” says lead researcher Dr Andrew Turner, reader in environmental science at Plymouth University. The highest concentrations of lead, chromium and antimony generally occurred in yellow or red paints, but the apparent age and visible condition of the structure or surface was not a good indicator of the concentration of hazardous elements, with some playgrounds having been built as recently as 2009. “While undisturbed and intact, coatings and their chemical components are relatively safe. But once the film begins to deteriorate through abrasion or exposure to UV light and moisture, the paint begins to crack, flake and chalk and metal-bearing particulates are mobilised into the environment,” says Turner. “The effects of lead on human health, including those that affect the neurological development of children, are well documented with regard to paint exposure in urban and domestic settings.”

Ten new lupus genes discovered in Asian population study

An international coalition of researchers has identified 10 new genes associated with the autoimmune disease lupus, after analysing more than 17,000 human DNA samples collected from blood gathered from volunteers in South Korea, China, Malaysia and Japan. Of those samples, nearly 4,500 had confirmed cases of lupus, while the rest served as healthy controls for the research. Lupus is a debilitating chronic autoimmune disease where the body’s immune system becomes unbalanced and attacks its own tissue. It can result in damage to many different body systems, including the joints, skin, kidneys, heart and lungs. Lupus affects 5 million people worldwide, according to the Lupus Foundation of America. In the study, one gene in particular, known as GTF2I, showed a high likelihood of being involved in the development of lupus. “Its genetic effect appears to be higher than previously known lupus genes discovered from Asians, and we surmise that it now may be the predominant gene involved in lupus,” says lead researcher Swapan Nath, an Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation scientist. With these new genes identified, the scientists can try to pinpoint where defects occur and whether those mutations contribute to the onset of lupus pathogenesis. Nath says that understanding where and how the defects arise will allow scientists to develop more effective therapies specifically targeting those genes.

Health and thinking skills linked to same genes, study shows

Genes that influence people’s health also shape how effectively they think, a new study shows. An international team of scientists, led by the University of Edinburgh, analysed data from about 100,000 Britons and found that genes associated with disorders and diseases including Alzheimer’s disease, schizophrenia, and autism also have an impact on some cognitive functions. “In addition to there being shared genetic influences between cognitive skills and some physical and mental health states, the study also found that cognitive skills share genetic influences with brain size, body shape and educational attainments,” says Professor Ian Deary, who led the research. When researchers compared each subject’s mental test data with their genome, they found that some traits linked to disease and thinking skills shared the same genetic influences. To test the findings, they gathered data from previous genetic studies of other mental and physical health factors. Researcher Saskia Hagenaars says: “The study supports an existing theory which says that those with better overall health are likely to have higher levels of intelligence.”