A class-action lawsuit was just filed against the Kennedy Krierger Institute, a prominent medical institute affiliated with Johns Hopkins University, for allegedly exposing black children to lead paint as part of a research project on lead poisoning. According to the lawyers filing the lawsuit, more than 100 children were endangered by lead dust after the Institute assured their families that their homes were “lead safe”. The institute then periodically measured the lead levels in the children’s blood, but provided them with no medical treatment. According to the lawsuit, this lead exposure caused significant, permanent neurological injuries in some of the children.
The institute defended its actions, saying the lead pain study was done in the “best interests of all the children enrolled”, and that for the most part, the children’s blood lead levels remained constant or went down. The study was meant to determine how well various levels of lead reduction decreased blood lead levels in young children, so that “a practical way to clean up lead” in homes could be found in the absence of regulation. Litigation around this research project has gone on for more than a decade, and has been compared to the Tuskegee Syphilis experiment.
While the parents of the enrolled children signed consent forms, lawyers for the plaintiffs argue that the forms did not provide a complete or clear explanation of what the research entailed. Allegedly, the Kennedy Krieger institute helped some of the families in the project acquire apartments in state-subsidized buildings where lead abatement was only partial (assuring them that the buildings were “lead safe”), and then did not inform parents when their children’s blood levels were elevated, nor did they provide treatment to children whose condition was deteriorating.
On the other hand, the hospital claims that the study was the basis for a 1996 state law that led to a 93 percent drop in lead-paint poisoning in Baltimore. Still, as good as their intentions might have been, investigations must adhere to ethical standards, and if the allegations of the lawsuit are true, the institute failed to follow the guidelines for the right way to conduct research involving human subjects.