Johns Hopkins Affiliate Accused of Tuskegee-Like Study

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September 15, 2011; Source: New York Times | A class-action lawsuit has been filed against the Kennedy Krieger Institute, a Johns Hopkins University affiliate, accusing the lab of conducting experiments on African American children which the Maryland Court of Appeals has compared to the Tuskegee syphilis study.  The research, which has been the subject of litigation for more than a decade, involved periodically testing children’s blood to determine lead levels in order to study the hazards of lead paint.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs say that researchers knowingly exposed more than 100 children who ranged in age from 12 months to 5 years old to high levels of lead dust in apartments selected by Kennedy Krieger for the children and their families to live in. Parents were supposedly misled by assurances from the institute that their homes were “lead safe.”

David Armstrong, father of the lead plaintiff, said he was not told that his son was being introduced to elevated levels of lead paint dust. “I thought they had cleaned everything and it would be a safe place,” he said. “They said it was ‘lead safe.’ ”

The lawsuit also claims that no medical treatment was made available to the children. “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,” reads the suit.

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.” He points out that “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 further argues that “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.”

Goldstein appears to argue that it is not the responsibility of researchers and scientists to change public policy. Fair enough. But what about their responsibility to people who serve as research subjects? In this case, the court will determine whether Kennedy Krieger researchers fully disclosed all the facts to parents before having their children live in lead-laced apartments.Erwin de Leon