MIT and Quaker Oats have agreed to pay $1.85 million to former residents of the Fernald State School in Waltham, Mass., who were fed radiation-spiked breakfast cereal in nutrition experiments during the 1940s and 1950s.
The settlement "is a recognition that these actions were improper and a violation of the civil rights of helpless children," said Alexander Bok, an attorney for the 15 plaintiffs who filed the class action suit in December 1995.
Those children -- some of whom were mentally handicapped and some from troubled families -- were frequently used for medical and nutritional experiments without the informed consent of their parents.
"Anytime they put a drug out on the market, they went in and fed things to people -- birth-control pills, high-blood pressure pills," said Fred Boyce, 57, a real estate agent who spent his childhood at Fernald. "It was very convenient for the drug companies."
The case involved nutritional studies. Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers, working with a grant from Quaker Oats, exposed children to radioactive materials in research intended to give Quaker Oats a competitive advantage over its rivals.
In 1994, after accounts of the radiation experiments were made public, MIT's president, Charles M. Vest, apologized for his institution's part in the research.
Most of the funds for the settlement will come from MIT, the school said in a statement yesterday. Because this is a class action settlement, however, the final amount and final approval depends on all parties agreeing to the plan.
The suit against MIT charged that researchers tricked the children into participating in hazardous experiments by telling them they were part of a science club. The suit alleged that the researchers exceeded federal limits on radiation exposure for some of the children.
MIT said the studies used "minute amounts" of radioactive iron and calcium tracers.
Pub Date: 12/31/97