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A gap year.

Byline: By Tony Henderson

Scientists have called on the Tooth Fairy to help them study how much poisonous lead children absorb from their surroundings.

They aim to collect up to 500 teeth from school pupils on Tyneside in a major study into lead pollution.

The Newcastle University project has been dubbed the Tooth Fairy Study because, with the help of 15 Newcastle primary schools, the researchers are asking parents of children aged six to eight to donate one of the their child's milk teeth after they fall out.

Lead is known to accumulate in teeth and the study aims to determine the levels found in children in Newcastle, increase understanding of its effects on children's health, and find out if levels vary across the city.

One source of lead pollution on Tyneside comes from the area's industrial past. There were five lead smelters in Newcastle and many more sites which processed the ore.

Children can absorb lead from soil, lead water pipes, household dust from leaded windows, old paint and ( until recently ( leaded petrol.

The study is led by Dr Tanja Pless- Mulloli, senior lecturer in public health at Newcastle University.

Dr Pless-Mulloli said: "The industrial legacy means that, for many communities in urban areas, there is potential for chronic exposure to environmental contaminants, such as lead.

"We don't know how big a problem it is at the moment."

She said that one of the potential effects of lead pollution was on the development of intelligence.

Also involved in the project is research associate Dr Catherine Vizard, of Newcastle University's School of Population and Health Sciences.

It is funded by the Department of Health, and supported by the Newcastle Lead Task Force.

Families taking part will also be asked to complete a lifestyle questionnaire.

The teeth will be sent to a laboratory in Hamburg, Germany, for analysis.

The study is expected to take two years and the results will be used by health experts to decide whether there is a need to consider lead screening in the North-East.

Shelley Lanser, regional environmental epidemiologist with the Health Protection Agency North East said: "Lead levels in the UK are dropping overall, however, work elsewhere demonstrates that lead exposure is not distributed evenly. We are hoping this study will reveal to us what makes some children particularly vulnerable."

If any child is found to have an increased level of lead in their teeth, the research team will notify the child's parents and GP, who may then decide they should be referred for further assessment.
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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Sep 9, 2005
Words:421
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