(CN) – A man claims a prestigious Baltimore hospital used him and other children as guinea pigs in an experiment on the effects of lead dust on children. He claims in a class action that the Kennedy Krieger Institute “selected” poor and minority children as “guinea pigs” in a 6-year study of lead-abatement programs, “by causing children to reside in houses where the presence of lead dust was known to the researcher to be likely” so KKI researchers could compare the levels of lead in their blood to the levels of the lead dust in the houses.
David Armstrong Jr. sued the Kennedy Krieger Institute, on behalf of the class, in Baltimore City Court.
Armstrong says that as a child he was enrolled “in an experiment on children at KKI known as ‘The Lead-Based Paint Abatement and Repair and Maintenance Study in Baltimore’ (hereinafter, ‘R&M Study’).”
Armstrong’s 35-page complaint describes KKA as “a prestigious hospital” based in Baltimore that operates the “Kennedy Krieger Children’s Hospital Lead Poisoning Prevention Program,” to prevent, and treat, lead poisoning.
He says that KKI knew, and reported in its own study, published in the American Journal of Public Health in 1990, that “‘Exposure to lead-bearing dust is particularly hazardous for children because hand-to-mouth activity is recognized as a major route of entry into the body and because absorption of lead is inversely related to particulate size.'”
Nonetheless, Armstrong says, in 1993 KKI created a “nontherapeutic research program, the R&M Study, whereby it selected and caused certain classes of homes to have only partial lead paint abatement modifications performed.” For the study, Armstrong says, “KKI arranged for the landlords of the homes to receive public funding by way of grants or loans to pay for the partial lead abatements.
“KKI then selected and arranged for families with young children to rent those partially abated premises from the landlords and remain in the homes for a number of years in order for his or her blood to be periodically analyzed. …
“In other words, KKI used these children as known guinea pigs in these lead-contaminated houses to complete this study. For this study, KKI selected children and their parents who were predominantly from a lower economic strata and minorities.
“KKI researchers had completed a prior study on abatement and partial abatement methods that indicated that lead dust remained and/or returned to abated houses despite partial abatement.”
The complaint then cites the 1990 study, “Health and Environmental Outcomes of Traditional and Modified Practices for Abatement of Residential Lead-Based Paint.”
Armstrong says: “Even after publishing this 1990 report, the KKI researchers conducted the R&M research project starting in 1993 and continuing for six years by causing children to reside in houses where the presence of lead dust was known to the researcher to be likely so that KKI researchers could periodically compare the levels of the lead dust in the houses to these children’s blood lead levels over periodic two-year intervals.
“KKI anticipated that these child guinea pigs would accumulate lead in their blood from the lead in the dust, and thereby help researchers to determine the extent to which the various partial lead abatement methods work.”
He adds: “There was no complete and clear explanation in the consent agreement signed by the parents of the children that the research to be conducted was designed, at least in significant part, to measure the success of the abatement procedures by measuring the extent to which the children’s blood was being contaminated.
“In essence, the KKI researchers intended that the children be the canaries in the mines but never clearly told the parents.”
Armstrong says KKI “enticed” the children and their parents “into living in lead-tainted housing” for the experiment. “Nothing about the research was designed to treat the subject children for lead poisoning,” he says. “As to them, the research was clearly nontherapeutic in nature. These children’s health was put at risk in order to develop low-cost abatement measures that would help all children, the landlords, and the general public as well.
“As a direct and proximate consequence, these children, their siblings and other minors visiting these partially lead abated homes ingested lead and suffered permanent brain damage and other damage.”
He says the children were “enrolled” in the experiment from the age of 12 months to 5 years “and had no possible way of knowing about KKI’s actions.”
He says that “KKI advertised the property to the plaintiffs by way of a typed list entitled ‘lead safe properties.’ KKI even maintained keys to many units to show the properties to the prospective tenants” and “negotiated the lease between the plaintiffs and the landlord,” and had separate agreements with the landlord, who could rent the apartment only to “KKI R&M participants” for up to 5 years, at reduced rent.
Armstrong seeks equitable tolling of the statute of limitations, and damages for consumer fraud, fraud, intentional misrepresentation, concealment, and negligence. He says the experiment was done with “actual malice.”
Armstrong is represented by Thomas Yost Jr. and William Murphy Jr., both of Baltimore.