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Class Action Lawsuit Filed Over Maryland Lead Paint Poisoning Study

A class action lawsuit has been filed against a Baltimore children’s disabilities hospital for allegedly allowing poor minority children to be exposed to high levels of lead as part of a study. 

The Maryland class action lawsuit was filed Thursday in Baltimore City Circuit Court on behalf of people involved in a lead exposure study conducted by the Kennedy Krieger Institute in the 1990s.

According to allegations raised in the complaint, the institute found poor and minority children who were living in homes with high levels of toxic lead paint to observe the health effects, failing to inform the parents that their children may be at risk.

As part of the research, some families were moved into homes with less lead contamination, while others were allowed to remain in lead paint-contaminated homes without being told about the health effects or the lead levels. The plaintiffs claim that Kennedy Krieger selected poor and minority test subjects to stay in contaminated homes, while generally selecting white and more affluent children as those to be moved into safer homes.

Kennedy Krieger is a nonprofit hospital and research institute in Baltimore that focuses on learning disabilities in children. The Lead-Based Paint Abatement and Repair and Maintenance Study, which began in 1993, attempted to find affordable ways to reduce the risk of lead-paint poisoning for children living in older homes and apartments.

Kennedy Krieger officials deny that they targeted poor and minority children to remain in contaminated homes, and say that the study has led to vast improvements in lead-based paint abatement policies. The study was emulated in 13 cities nationwide, sanctioned by the federal government, and Kennedy Krieger officials say it led to a 93 percent drop in the number of lead poisoning cases in Baltimore.

This is not the first time the institute has been sued over the study. The institute has reportedly settled a number of claims out of court, and in 2001, the Maryland Court of Appeals ruled that Kennedy Krieger officials knew that some families were living in homes with dangerous levels of lead contamination and knew the children there were suffering from elevated blood lead levels, but failed to inform those families that their children had elevated levels of lead in their blood in a timely manner.

Lead poisoning can result in nervous system injury, brain damage, seizures or convulsions, growth or mental retardation, coma and even death for young children. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) consider 10 milligrams of lead per deciliter of blood to be the level of concern for exposure to lead. The CDC estimates that approximately 250,000 children in the U.S. have blood lead levels that high or higher.

One of the more common causes of lead exposure in the United States is lead paint, which was banned in 1978 due to the risk of severe and permanent brain damage and developmental problems, particularly in children. However, a number of older homes still contain the toxic paint on the walls, and if it flakes or peals off, young children could ingest the paint chips or breathe dust that comes from the paint, resulting in lead poisoning.

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