The Baltimore Lead Study

In the 1990s, a prominent research facility associated with Johns Hopkins University conducted an experiment that knowingly exposed children — mostly African American, some as young as a year old — to varying levels of potentially dangerous lead, as part of a study comparing different degrees of lead paint abatement. The researchers, at Hopkins’ Kennedy Krieger Institute, recruited poor families to move into homes that had only been partially abated using three different methods of lead paint removal at three different levels of cost.

The research was “conducted in the best interest of all of the children enrolled,” Dr. Gary W. Goldstein, president and chief executive of the Kennedy Krieger Institute, said in response to a class-action lawsuit filed by the families in 2011. “Over all, the blood lead levels of most children residing in the study homes stayed constant or went down.”

But in some cases, children placed in homes that received the two cheaper forms of abatement were exposed to levels of lead known to cause permanent neurological problems.

Here, public health historians Gerald Markowitz and David Rosner tell the story. You can read about it in more detail in this chapter of their book, Lead Wars.

Watch Bill’s entire interview with Gerald Markowitz and David Rosner.

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  • Leisureguy

    Reminds me of the Tuskegee syphilis experiment. I wonder why both studies used mainly African-American subjects. Do they explain that?

  • agelbert

    It never stops. Have you considered the “good deals” in various out of the way states like Maine with 40 year old houses selling for “bargain” prices? ANYTHING older than 20 years is problematic and gets worse as it gets older. We need a national program to redefine what is acceptable and safe in building materials and a government wide effort to eliminate ALL toxins wherever they are found, period. A Wall Street Sales Tax would EASILY pay for this and provide much needed jobs for our economy as well.

  • Norleen LaFave Gray

    I wish i could say I’m surprised!!!

  • The Suprema Lex

    lol not they dont, but “we” all know why. apart from the low income part, there are plenty low income caucasians, asians, natives, and hispanics that they couldve offered subsidized housing to for an experiment,. just in case they wanted to use the income incentive as an excuse.

  • Swift2

    We have been taught we can’t afford it, that resources are restrained, that government is a clumsy oaf. That’s the way billionaires see the world — the ones whose use of money is sick. NAMMLA. North American Man Money Love Association.

  • Jami Van Brocklin

    This is disgusting! I can’t believe this happened in the freaking 1990’s! This sounds like something from the 50’s!

  • Julie Mraz

    We were/are poisoned by American Made Drywall offgassing Carbon disulfide and listed as such on an epidemiologic report through the CPSC. Drywall always contains serious chemicals. This story is so sad it is beyond belief but reality for sure. When will someone listen.?

  • Trs Edwards

    this is sad in general, it would be sad if the kids were white red yellow brown orange olive blue or black….why do stories like this need to give special mention when african americans are involved?? I am genuinely curious.

  • cityprof

    I’m genuinely curious: do you know of many “stories like this” involving white children? Asian children? HIspanic, Native, or other “non-Black” children? I don’t, but I’m willing to believe they exist. I’m more willing to believe, though, that the U.S. has a long and sordid history of devaluing black life, in particular. That this happened in the 1990s suggests that we are far from being past that history. That’s why it is important to mention it, because it seems to be part of a pattern, one worth acknowledging so that we can change it.

  • Patricia Eaton

    DUH, do you know what racism is? Read the definition.

  • Nathaniel Whitt

    Well There are some things that should be acknowledged here. In the 90’s there weren’t many, if any Asians or Latinos living in the city. They were far and few between. I know this as I was born in 79 and lived in various parts of the city. Secondly, the homes and dwellings of the 1990’s weren’t just built in the 90’s. Homes in baltimore were occupied by whites until “white flight” began in the mid 60’s. Industrial lead in paint and gasoline can cause problems for everyone. Sadly, there are some people out there more concerned about money and less about safety. This story isn’t about color. It’s about greed.

  • MM

    Because black lives do not matter to them.

  • MM

    Government is the problem – Regonomics – the godfather of the demise of the American middle class.

  • Leisureguy

    I’m curious, though, as to how they would explain the choice.

  • MM

    Well…hmmm…My guess…They could say that afterall they were helping out these poor single moms. They offered the families nice homes that were an improvement over their previous homes. They gave them financial rewards. So they would claim that the families were better off. They would not explain the choice as racial. They would say that their choice was based on an area that had poor housing. (But by choosing a black neighborhood, they ensured that the subjects of the experiment would be black).