Suit Contends Black Children Exposed to Lead Poisoning For Study

September 16, 2011  |  

By Alexis Garrett Stodghill

A leading medical research institute in Baltimore stands accused of intentionally allowing black children, some as young as 12 months, to become increasingly poisoned by lead as part of a study conducted during the ’90s. The Kennedy Krieger Institute constructed experiments meant to address the chronic problem of lead poisoning for poor children in the city, seeking to measure the efficacy of lead removal procedures in low income areas. Unfortunately, the study authors chose to place defenseless African-American infants and toddlers knowingly into housing that was not up to code regarding lead paint and dust contamination in order to do so. A class action law suit filed on Thursday against Kennedy Krieger seeks justice for these unethical methods.

Parents with young kids were enticed to live in tainted apartments without fully understanding the dangers present, and the children received no medical treatment during the study. They were only observed. Even if their lead levels became elevated through direct exposure to the experimental environment, the parents were not informed and the kids were not treated. These African-American families were kept in the dark so that researchers could collect unbiased data. The New York Times reports:

According to the lawsuit, Kennedy Krieger helped landlords get public financing for lead abatements and helped select families with young children to rent apartments where lead dust problems had been only partly eliminated so that the children’s blood could be measured for lead over a two-year period, according to the lawsuit.

“What they would do was to improve the lead hazard from what it was but not improve it to code,” said Thomas F. Yost Jr., one of the lawyers who filed the suit.

Mr. Yost said that although parents signed consent forms, the contracts failed to provide “a complete and clear explanation” about the research, which aimed to measure “the extent to which the children’s blood was being contaminated.”

David Armstrong, the father of the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit, David Armstrong Jr., said that after his son, age 3, was tested for high levels of lead in 1993, he went to a Kennedy Krieger clinic for help. The father said the family was provided state-subsidized housing by Kennedy Krieger and was told they would be part of a two-year research project. Mr. Armstrong said he was not told that his son was being introduced to elevated levels of lead paint dust.

Mr. Armstrong said blood was collected from his son for two years, but that no one told him the lead levels had increased. After the two-year mark passed, Mr. Armstrong said he continued to live in the two-bedroom apartment but did not hear from Kennedy Krieger.

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