Hospital Accused of Intentionally Exposing Poor Black Kids to Lead Poisoning

leadIf allegations against a Baltimore medical institute are true, a horrific story that sounds like something out of an American history book was taking place less than 20 years ago right on the East Coast. More than 100 black kids from the city's poor community were allegedly lead poisoned by a health care facility in the '90s. The 1990s that is.

A lawsuit against Kennedy Krieger, the Baltimore medical institute that claims to be dedicated to helping children and adolescents with disorders of the brain, claims the facility moved kids as young as 12 months and their families into apartments that had supposedly undergone state-sponsored lead abatements. Only there was still lead in those buildings. The goal was to study the effects of lead abatement measures on the brains of young kids, the very people the EPA warns are at the highest risk of being irreparably harmed by lead.

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It can be a tough row to hoe for scientists. We need to do studies in order to know more about certain risks. I remember being pregnant and cranky about all the warnings that such and such "might" be dangerous to a pregnant woman ... and realizing they couldn't really study much because no pregnant woman in her right mind was just going to volunteer to be in a study, not when she had so much to lose. We have to live with the uncertain because of the risks.

After all, the guiding principle in health care is to first do no harm. But this lawsuit against Kennedy Krieger claims the same facility knowingly exposed children to the toxic metal, then left them to suffer with no treatment. Say it with me now ... screwed ... up.

Most parents today know what lead can do to our kids. I live in a state where kids have to be subjected to blood tests several times over in the early years to ensure they aren't at risk because the effects are that bad. As the EPA warns, lead poisoning can cause anything from behavioral problems and learning disabilities to seizures and death. You don't mess with lead.

Of course, the race of the children involved brings to mind the disturbing case of The Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment, wherein the US government infected poor black men with syphilis as part of a science experiment. It was a project that lasted up into the early 1970s, a dark mark on American history. These poor men, mostly sharecroppers, were treated by our government as if they were somehow less important than those people the study aimed to save.

But at the risk of sounding unfeeling, if the Baltimore allegations prove true, this may be even worse. An entire class of people was marginalized for their race and for their age. Like those men, these kids didn't matter as much as the people Kennedy Krieger's "scientists" were ostensibly trying to save.

The men chosen in the Tuskegee case were poor and illiterate. They were tricked by the government. But these kids didn't even need to be tricked. They simply didn't know. They were toddlers, babies. Every one of the kids was 5 or younger. We're talking the most innocent members of society abused because they couldn't speak up for themselves. Because they couldn't weigh the risks against the potential gains.

Can you think of anything worse than researchers hurting children in the name of science?

 

Image via taberandrew/Flickr

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