Toxic sludge tested in poor neighborhoods

April 18, 2008

This week the Associated Press reported that researchers in Baltimore have been testing sludge as a method of lessening the harmful effects of lead-filled soil. Unfortunately, residents of the lower income community of color where this testing took place were never warned of the risks of having their yards covered in this mix of human and industrial waste.

Federally funded researchers told nine lower income families in Baltimore row houses that their yards were contaminated with lead and dangerous for their children. They then offered to treat the soil with a fertilizer that would trap heavy metal, promising that the mixture was safe and claiming that it was store bought. In exchange, the researchers distributed food coupons and planted lawns. The potentially hazardous sludge had never been tested for safety and studies on the health of children who played in the yards was never done.

This isn’t the first controversial project by Mark Farfel, lead author of the study. In 2001, the Maryland Court of Appeals compared his previous work exposing lower income children to lead paint to Nazi concentration camps and the U.S. government’s Tuskegee study.