The Scafell Project – Necessary

The Scafell Project aims to acquire up-to-date data on the prevalence of elevated BLC in the child population as a whole, but focus this in areas where lead exposure may be more frequent. This probably means former industrial areas which are now deprived and include older housing. If these data show that lead exposure is still a problem in England then they should be presented to the NSC to show that testing for elevated BLCs is necessary.

There has been no study of the prevalence of elevated lead levels in the UK since the middle of the 1990s. At that time it was found that, of those sampled, 14.5% of pregnant women (Taylor et al, 2013) and 27% of toddlers (Chandramouli et al, 2008) had blood lead concentrations (BLC) above 5 µg Pb/dL. This is the action level currently recommended by the Lead Exposure in Children Surveillance System.

To show that screening is necessary, more up-to-date data on the prevalence of elevated BLCs is needed. One way to achieve this could be to exploit existing stocks of blood samples. UK Biobank have been contacted about this and information about costs is awaited.

Another approach could be to collect new samples for analysis. This could be done using a finger prick method analysed by a device such as LeadCare II. A current study on COVID-19 antigens uses participant self-administered sample collection showing that a trained nurse may not be needed. The ethical constraints around this would have to be examined and a cohort of volunteers would be needed – perhaps from the children of the ALSPAC ‘Children of the Nineties’ cohort.