Stagnation at White House May be Attributable to Sewer Sludge in President's Produce


Image by Guardian UK
Poor Obama: not only does he have to contend with Blue Dogs, but now it seems he is being poisoned by lead found in the People’s Garden at the White House.

In truth, the levels, while not ideal, are far from unusual or unsafe for an urban garden. The Guardian states:

The soil in the garden had lead concentrations of 93 parts per million of lead. Health experts say it is safe to raise leafy vegetables in soil with concentrations of 10-50 parts per million, and urban gardens typically have raised lead levels. However, it is advised for young children to be tested for exposure to lead if they play in areas where lead concentrations exceed 100 parts per million. The Environmental Protection Agency puts the threshold for dangerous lead levels at 300 parts per million.

More interesting is one of the possible sources of contamination: sewer sludge. Under the Clinton Administration, a fertilizer called ComPRO—a type of compost made from sewer sludge—was advocated for use on White House grounds. The use of ComPRO at White House was seen by some as the EPA's way to demonstrate its safety. Andrew Kimbrell in Huffington Post described what the sludge ComPRO is made of :

[It is] A stinking, sticky, dark-grey to black paste, it's everything homeowners, hospitals and industries put down their toilets and drains. Every material-turned-waste that our society produces (including prescription drugs and the sweepings of slaughterhouses), and that wastewater treatment plants are capable of removing from sewage, becomes sludge. The end product is a concentrated mass of heavy metals and carcinogenic, teratogenic, and hormone-disrupting chemicals, replete with antibiotic-resistant bacteria. There are some 80,000 to 90,000 industrial chemicals, including a host of dioxin-like deadly substances, which are allowed to be present in sludge under current EPA rules. What's worse, there's no way of knowing which toxic chemicals and heavy metals are entering the wastewater stream at any given time or in what concentrations. Sludge is always an unknown quantity, and therefore, assessing whether sludge is safe to use for growing food, is—in practice—impossible.

But ComPRO is not the only potential source of lead. Since lead does not leave soil, over the course of the White House’s 217-year history, there could be a number of other potential culprits:

  • Settled lead particulates from automobiles, which is an unlikely direct cause owing to the White House’s inset location. Although this could contribute to ComPRO contamination.

  • Flaking lead based paint from natural deterioration or fire (the original White House was burned in 1812).

  • Lead based pesticides; especially lead arsenate, but also mixtures of lead arsenate and copper and DDT. From the late 1890's through the late 1960's, various lead-based salts were mixed with elemental sulfur powders as the fungicide and insecticide of choice for ornamental plants such as blossoming cherries and roses (think rose garden); they were used for crabgrass control, and even on some vegetable crops. DDT basically replaced it. Officially, all insecticidal uses of Lead Arsenate in the USA were officially banned on 1 August 1988.
  • But the People’s Garden will continue—this is spite of the Mid America CropLife Association (MACA) early objections that the garden’s organic credentials would scare people off of conventional growing methods (wonder why?). The Guardian reports of the project's continuatioin:

    “The garden recently underwent extensive soil testing that proved it is completely safe," Katie McCormick Lelyveld, the first lady's spokeswoman, said. A lead level of 92 parts per million is significantly better than the government standard for a garden like this. The White House kitchen garden team is committed to producing fresh, safe and healthy food as a learning opportunities (sic) about health eating, and they'll continue to do so," Lelyveld said.

    Perhaps Michelle and Co. should have been more rigorous in their house and garden inspection before moving in. Maybe they could have used The Rodale Institute compost similar to the USDA organic farm. You can never be too thorough. After all, you never know what previous tenants could have done to your home.

    Via the Guardian

    Read More:
    White House Garden to Feature Bee Hives Too
    'First Locavore' Michelle Obama to Oprah: Veggie Garden Coming to White House Lawn
    The White House Vegetable Garden: A Permaculture Perspective

    Tags: Composting | Farming | Fertilizer | Food Safety | Gardening | Local Food | Pesticides

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