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June 23, 2009

"Follow the ... sludge"

As we've noted here on Garden Variety, there are those who believe that the White House kitchen garden is contaminated with toxic levels of lead as the result of a supposedly sludge dump in the early 1990s that was designed to encourage the grass on the South Lawn to grow.

(It was actually ComPRO that was used. It is a commercially available soil amendment that was, indeed, made from recycled waste, although it has been reformulated since. No one arrived at the White House with a dump truck from the nearby sewage treatment center.)

This controversy, which we are calling "Watercressgate," was given added momentum last week when Mother Jones magazine reported that "the national Park Service disclosed that the garden's soil is contaminated with toxic lead."

The editors of the blog Obama Foodorama, who keep track of the "Obama foodscape, one bipartisan bite at a time," went the extra mile and contacted three soil experts, all of whom agreed that a lead level of 93 parts per million, as recorded during soil testing of the proposed garden site before planting, is "ridiculously low," especially for an urban area where lead levels easily can be something like 2,000 parts per million.

Dr. Gabriel Filippelli, chair of the geology department at Indiana University and associate chair of the Center for Environmental Health, told Obama Foodorama 93 ppm was "ridiculously low."

Another expert, Dr. David Johnson, professor of environmental chemistry, environmental science and forestry at the State University of New York, said that the only way a lead contamination of 93 ppm could be toxic would be if the dirt itself were being eaten in large quantities.

Even concern that microorganism in the sludge might be harmful are unfounded since any such organisms are long since dead.

We here are Garden Variety would like everyone to take a deep breath and relax.

The Obamas are not growing lead paint chips on the South Lawn.




Posted by Susan Reimer at 1:15 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: White House Kitchen Garden


Actually, Dr. Johnson works at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry (SUNY ESF)...just figured I'd clarify.


I see on the video that everyone is nibbling on the same things I am harvesting from my own garden right now and I am by no means a master gardener. When I was a kid our garden was actually located where my grandfather discarded paint cans from his business. No problems here.

The lead issue is a red herring; if sewage sludge was used, there is no knowing what was in it in terms of heavy metals. There is a way to easily know what is on the lawn, using simple EPA tests, but notice how the lead is being focused on, with no mention of other possible contaminants.

Finally, please consider that the sewage waste industry PR folks would have given their first born to apply their "product" on the White House lawn, so this is probably the cleanest sludge they could find, and still source it to sewage.

This is a PR war and it will be interesting to see if the Whitehouse continues to source such "happy" scientists... I've never seen so many "laughing" experts lined up in a row... no, wait, yes I have. Last year, around this time, "experts" lined up on TV to laugh at the notion the housing bubble had popped. Moral: when you seen experts quoted as "laughing" that is a tell-tale that they are about to spout some sludge.

Glad to hear that it is lead free or not enough to do harm. Have a great day.
Dan and Deanna "Marketing Unscrambled"

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About Susan Reimer
Susan Reimer has spent 16 years writing about raising kids - among other topics - in her column for The Baltimore Sun. And every time son Joseph or daughter Jessie passed another milestone - driver's license, college, wedding or a move to a new military duty station - she has planted another garden. Now she will be writing about those gardens - and yours - here on Garden Variety.

Susan isn't an expert gardener, but she wasn't an expert mother, either. Both - the kids and the gardens - seem to be doing well in spite of her.

She lives in Annapolis with her husband, Gary Mihoces, who loves to cut his grass but has noticed that there seems to be less of it every time the kids pass another milestone.

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