The lawsuit is the latest in a decade-long legal battle over the institute's lead paint study. In 2001, the Maryland Court of Appeals compared the study to the Tuskegee syphilis experiment, which withheld syphilis treatment from African-American men -- an analogy Ryan called "sadly misplaced."
"In the U.S., anybody can sue anybody else -- it's one of the freedoms of our system," said Ryan. "But [the lawsuit] is essentially blaming researchers for society's failure to provide safe housing for kids. I see this as terribly misguided, unfounded and unfair."
Ryan said he hopes the lawsuit might highlight the ongoing health crisis of low-income housing.
"The number-one environmental health hazard is crummy, substandard housing," he said, adding that lead poisoning, mold, pest infestations and asthma triggers continue to plague low-income neighborhoods.
"Are we going to accept a significant portion of our population living in housing that hurts their health?" he asked. "I would hope this case would lead to a check in the American conscience about the quality of low-income housing."