In what is being called a contemporary version of the horrific Tuskegee experiment, a prominent Baltimore medical institute has been accused of enticing poor black families with small children to move into lead-tainted homes during the 1990s to study the poisonous effects of lead paint.
A class-action lawsuit was filed against the Kennedy Krieger Institute in September, 2011, accusing it of selecting and subsidizing low-income families with young children to rent apartments with lead dust problems in order to measure lead levels in the children over a period of two years.
The suit alleges that more than 100 children, ranging from one to five years old, were endangered by high levels of lead dust in their homes, despite assurances from the Kennedy Krieger Institute that the houses were “lead safe.” Kennedy Krieger provided no medical treatment for the children.
According to court documents filed in Baltimore, “Children were enticed into living in lead-tainted housing and subjected to a research program which intentionally exposed them to lead poisoning in order for the extent of the contamination of these children’s blood to be used by scientific researchers to assess the success of lead paint or lead dust abatement measures. Nothing about the research was designed to treat the subject children for lead poisoning.”
Dr. Gary W. Goldstein, president and chief executive of the Kennedy Krieger Institute, said in a statement that the “research was conducted in the best interest of all of the children enrolled.”
Johns Hopkins University, which approved the study, is not named in the lawsuit.
David Armstrong, the father of the lead plaintiff in the case, David Armstrong Jr., said that his then 3-year-old son’s blood showed high levels of lead in 1993 and he went to a Kennedy Krieger clinic for help. Kennedy Krieger provided state-subsidized housing for the family and inducted young David into the two-year research project. Mr. Armstrong said he was not informed that his son would be exposed to elevated levels of lead paint dust in their new home.
Armstrong said he was never told that over the course of the study the lead levels in his son’s blood had increased to three times higher than when he moved into the home. When the study ended, Mr. Armstrong continued to live in the two-bedroom apartment but did not hear from Kennedy Krieger again. His son received no medical treatment.
“I thought they had cleaned everything and it would be a safe place,” Mr. Armstrong said. “They said it was ‘lead safe.’ ”
Lead exposure is especially toxic to young children because it interferes with the development of the nervous system and is known to cause permanent learning and behavior disorders.
A banner on the Kennedy Krieger Institute’s website reads “We are all born with great potential. Shouldn’t we all have the chance to achieve it?”
Perhaps “all” means something different in their dictionary.