A group of former students who ate radioactive oatmeal as unwitting participants in a food experiment will share a $1.85 million settlement from Quaker Oats and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

More than 100 youngsters at the Fernald School in Waltham were fed cereal containing radioactive iron and calcium in the 1940s and 1950s. The diet was part of an experiment to prove the nutrients in Quaker oatmeal travel throughout the body.

Quaker and MIT agreed last week to pay to settle the class action lawsuit. A hearing is scheduled April 6 to finalize the settlement.

Quaker Oats officials wanted to match the advertising claims of their competitor, farina-based Cream of Wheat, said Alexander Bok, one of the plaintiffs' 15 lawyers.

"It's a violation of your civil rights, which is why they're paying $1.8 million to treat a minor as a guinea pig and to feed them radiation," Bok said Tuesday.

The boys -- many of whom were wards of the state and inaccurately classified as mentally retarded -- joined the "Fernald Science Club" in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

A $60 million lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court two years ago, alleged the children were tricked into joining the science club in order to participate in the experiments. The suit claims some were exposed to more radiation than allowed under federal limits.

"They put out a consent form that neglects to mention that there's radioactivity {in the oatmeal}," Bok said. "If the radiation was okay, why didn't they disclose it?"

MIT said in a statement Tuesday that the exposure to radiation was about equal to the natural background radiation people are exposed to from the environment every year.

The university also noted a state task force in 1994 determined the students suffered no significant health effects.

That task force, however, said their civil rights were violated.

MIT President Charles Vest apologized for the way the Fernald experiments were conducted when reports about them were first published in 1994.

Quaker Oats continues to deny it played a large role in the Fernald experiments. The company donated the cereal and gave a "small research grant" to MIT, Quaker spokesman Mark Dollins said.

Dollins pointed out that MIT is funding most of the settlement.

Originally, the lawsuit had eight to 10 plaintiffs. About 20 more came forward as a result of newspaper advertisements last week that invited potential parties to the case to identify themselves.

The state also is sending notices to about 100 others believed to have been subjected to the experiments.

Bok said it is possible some plaintiffs won't agree to settle, in which case MIT could withdraw from the proposed deal.