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Baltimore/East St. Louis Sludge Studies

Associated Press published story on April 14, 2008 about two sewage sludge studies, funded by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the USDA, and EPA, in which sewage sludge was spread on the lawns of nine low-income families in Baltimore, Maryland, and on vacant lot next to an elementary school in East St. Louis, Illinois. "Sludge Tested As Lead-Poisoning Fix", April 14, 2008, John Heilprin and Kevin S. Vineys, Associated Press.

The studies banked on neighborhood children eating the sludge to see if it would bind with the lead known to exist in the soil. The Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health defended its participation in the Baltimore study in an opinion piece in the Baltimore Sun on April 28, 2008. The dean of the Bloomberg School of Public Health, Dr. Michael Klag, claimed Johns Hopkins' researchers had spread "compost", not sludge, on the kids’ yards.

The "compost," mixed with sawdust and wood chips, came from Baltimore’s Back River Wastewater Treatment Plant. Composted or not, sewage sludge is poisonous.

The Maryland NAACP has called for investigations into the study.

A paper about the Baltimore study was published in the Ameican Journal of Public Health. "Lead Research and the Challenge to Public Health." David Rosner, PhD, MSPH, and Gerald Markowitz, PhD. American Journal of Public Health, November 2012, Vol 102, No. 11

Summary: In 2001, Maryland’s court of appeals was asked to decide whether researchers at Johns Hopkins University had engaged in unethical research on children. During the 1990s, Johns Hopkins’s Kennedy Krieger Institute had studied 108 African American children, aged 6 months to 6 years, to find an inexpensive and “practical” means to ameliorate lead poisoning. We have outlined the arguments in the case and the conundrum faced by public health researchers as they confront new threats to our health from environmental and industrial insults. We examined the case in light of contemporary public health ideology, which prioritizes harm reduction over the historical goals of prevention. As new synthetic toxins—such as bisphenol A, polychlorinated biphenyls, other chlorinated hydrocarbons, tobacco, vinyl, and asbestos—are discovered to be biologically disruptive and disease producing at low levels, lead provides a window into the troubling dilemmas public health will have to confront in the future.