Baltimore Firm Sued for Testing Lead Levels on Black Children in 1990s

More than 100 children were endangered by high levels of lead dust in their homes arranged the Kennedy Krieger Institute.

By Jorge Rivas Sep 20, 2011

A class-action lawsuit was filed last Thursday against a Johns Hopkins University affiliated medical institute in Baltimore for knowingly exposing black children to lead poisoning in the 1990s. The alleged poisoning was part of a study exploring the hazards of lead paint.

"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," the suit states, according to the New York Times. "Nothing about the research was designed to treat the subject children for lead poisoning."

In 1993, David Armstrong, the father of the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit, took his then 3-year old son to a Kennedy Krieger clinic for medical treatment after the boy tested for high-levels of lead. According to Armstrong, his family was then offered state-subsidized housing if they agreed to be part of a two-year research study. But unbeknownst to Armstrong he was moved in to an apartment with elevated levels of lead paint dust.

"I thought they had cleaned everything and it would be a safe place," Armstrong told the Times. "They said it was ‘lead safe.’"

Researchers collected blood from Armstrong’s son for two years but never shared any of the results with him. "Later, when Mr. Armstrong took his son to a pediatrician, the doctor detected blood lead levels two and a half to three times higher than they had been before the family moved into the apartment," the Times reports.

The president of the Krieger Clinic told the Times the research was conducted in the best interest of the children:

Dr. Gary W. Goldstein, president and chief executive of the Kennedy Krieger Institute, said in a statement on Thursday that the "research was conducted in the best interest of all of the children enrolled."

"Baltimore city had the highest lead poisoning rates in the country, and more children were admitted to our hospital for lead poisoning than for any other condition," he said. "With no state or federal laws to regulate housing and protect the children of Baltimore, a practical way to clean up lead needed to be found so that homes, communities, and children could be safeguarded."

"Over all, the blood lead levels of most children residing in the study homes stayed constant or went down," the statement read, "even though in a few cases, they rose."

The lead paint study took place from 1993 to 1999. Lawyers for the plaintiffs say that more than 100 children were endangered by high levels of lead dust in their homes arranged by the Kennedy Krieger Institute.