Baltimore's Kennedy Krieger Institute, a research and care facility for disabled children that is affiliated with Johns Hopkins University, has been sued for knowingly exposing black children to lead poisoning in the 1990s as part of a study on the dangers of lead paint, according to multiple reports.

The study aimed to find a cost-effective abatement process that would reduce lead in blood levels in children. More than 100 families in the Baltimore area -- in which about 95 percent of homes in low-income neighborhoods had lead-based paint -- participated in the study.

During the course of the experiment, Kennedy Krieger moved the families, which included children ranging from ages 12 months to five years old, into subsidized homes that had undergone different treatments to reduce lead paint and dust exposure. Some of the homes simply had the paint removed, while others had new windows and floors. During a two-year period, researchers reportedly collected blood, dust and water samples to gauge which method was most effective in reducing lead exposure.

However, according to the class action lawsuit, the plaintiffs allege the children were exposed to dangerous levels of lead paint and dust in their homes despite the Kennedy Krieger Institute's assurance that the houses were lead-safe. Moreover, the lawsuit claims the institute did not provide medical treatment to the children who participated and that some of them suffered permanent neurological injuries as a result of their exposure to the hazardous materials.

Children were enticed into living in lead-tainted housing and subjected to a research program which intentionally exposed them to lead poisoning in order for the extent of the contamination of these children's blood to be used by scientific researchers to assess the success of lead paint or lead dust abatement measures, said the lawsuit, filed in state court in Baltimore.  Nothing about the research was designed to treat the subject children for lead poisoning.

Although Johns Hopkins University approved the study, it was not listed as a defendant in the suit.

Dr. Gary W. Goldstein, the president and chief executive of the Kennedy Krieger Institute, said in a statement that the research was conducted in the best interest of all of the participants. In addition, he said that while in a few cases blood lead levels in some of the children rose, most of the children involved in the study had blood lead levels that either stayed constant or went down.

Baltimore had the highest lead poisoning rates in the country, and more children were admitted to our hospital for lead poisoning than for any other condition, he said. With no state or federal laws to regulate housing and protect the children of Baltimore, a practical way to clean up lead needed to be found so that homes, communities and children could be safeguarded.

However, the lawsuit accuses the institute of negligence, fraud, battery and violating Maryland's consumer protection act, claiming the children who participated in the study were used as guinea pigs to benefit the greater good.

Thomas F. Yost, Jr., one of the lawyers who filed the suit, told The New York Times that while parents signed consent forms before participating in the study, those forms did not provide a complete and clear explanation about the research, which aimed to measure the extent to which the children's blood was being contaminated.

David Armstrong, the father of the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit, David Armstrong, Jr., told the newspaper that Kennedy Krieger did not tell him his son was being exposed to elevated levels of lead paint dust when he agreed to be part of the two-year research project in 1993. His son, then 3, had his blood analyzed during the course of the experiment, but researchers allegedly did not tell him his lead levels had increased, according to Armstrong.  He said they continued to live in the subsidized apartment after the two-year mark without hearing from Kennedy Krieger.

Armstrong's son, now 20, never received medical treatment for lead poisoning and was eventually told by a doctor that his blood lead levels were almost three times higher than they had been before the family moved into the home.

I thought they had cleaned everything and it would be a safe place, Armstrong said. They said it was 'lead-safe.'

The current lawsuit isn't the first to attack Kennedy Krieger's lead paint study. In 2001, the Maryland Court of Appeals reportedly compared the study to the Tuskegee syphilis experiment, which withheld syphilis treatment from African American men.

Lead poisoning can damage almost every system in the body, including the brain, and can lead to seizures, unconsciousness and sometimes death, according to the Mayo Clinic. Children under 6 are particularly vulnerable to lead poisoning, as it may severely impair mental and physical development.

In 1996, Maryland reportedly made the Kennedy Krieger Institute's lead abatement protocol into law, which led to a 93 percent drop in lead poisoning in the Baltimore area.