Note: This report has been updated.
From the AP, a nausea-inducing report about how in 2005, federally funded researchers spread human and industrial waste in the yards of a poor, black Baltimore neighborhood–and decided against notifying residents of any possible health concerns. A similar study was conducted in East St. Louis in 2001.
Instead, researchers piped another tune. One blithely written pamphlet distributed in East St. Louis read, “If people–particularly children–get some of the lead-contaminated dirt in their mouths, the lead will just pass through their bodies and not be absorbed.” No medical care was made available, and no lead tests were performed on children or pregnant women after the study.
After all, as Rufus Chaney (one of the study’s authors) says, the neighborhood’s lawns were already full of lead and other harmful quantities: “There was danger before. There wasn’t danger because of the biosolids compost,” says Chaney. In other words: the families in Baltimore were already in a disempowered, dangerous position. Why accord them any other measure of dignity or concern? Researchers participating in the 1932-1972 Tuskegee experiment–in which the federal government withheld treatment from poor and illiterate black sharecroppers infected with syphilis–could have made precisely that same case.
In exchange for their participation in the Baltimore study, residents received new lawns and food coupons. Members of Congress are demanding an investigation into the matter.
Update: A Kennedy Krieger Institute representative has contacted us to dispute the accuracy of the AP report cited. The materials used in the Baltimore study were Class A grade, and are sold commercially for residential use. We spoke with Thomas Burke, one of the experts cited in the original AP report, who confirmed their safety. According to Burke, his quote–and the EPA reports referenced in the article–were referring to the potential hazards of Class B sludge. No correction has yet been posted on the AP website.