Ivy League researchers fed radioactive cereal to retarded boys in the 1940s and 1950s without their parents' knowledge, The Boston Sunday Globe reported.

The experiments grew out of nutritionists' concern that a diet heavy in cereal might slow down the body's ability to digest iron and calcium, the newspaper said.The experiments on boys age 15 to 17 were carried out by scientists at Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

"I feel just as good about it today as the day I did it," said Constantine Maletskos, a former MIT researcher who put radioactive calcium in their milk.

Maletskos said the teenagers at the Fernald State School weren't harmed because the radiation levels were too low. But he said he didn't know of any follow-up studies of the health of the children.

"The attitude of the scientists was, we're going to do this in the best way possible," Maletskos told the Globe. "They would get the minimum radiation they could possibly get and have the experiment work."

In one battery of tests, 17 boys ate seven meals laced with radioactive iron, exposing their spleens to up to three times as much radiation as the typical American receives in a year from natural sources, the Globe reported.

In another, 19 boys were given radioactive calcium in their breakfast milk during one meal, exposing them to about one third of the radiation that most Americans would receive in their lifetime from fallout of nuclear weapons testing, according to Jacob Shapiro, director of radiation protection at Harvard University.

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In a 1945 letter proposing the research, MIT biochemist Robert S. Harris assured Fernald's superintendent that there was "absolutely no ground for caution" about the radioactive material. However, consent forms sent to parents or guardians didn't mention radiation, the Globe said.

Never secret, the research was published in scholarly journals. But documents on the effort, funded by the Quaker Oats Co. and the now-defunct U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, sat unnoticed in the school's library for years.

Maletskos said the researchers did everything possible to minimize exposures, using animals to develop test procedures first and then limiting each boy's participation.

But some researchers, such as Richard Clapp of JSI, an epidemiology research group in Boston, believe there is no safe level of radiation.

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