Experts dismiss White House garden lead levels as of no concern

Leading questions: East Wing defender-in-chief Eddie Gehman Kohan is irked that the White House garden is getting dissed by Mother Jones and others for having lead levels in the “ridiculously low” 93 ppm range (left over from sludge the EPA spread there), and she’s dialing academic experts for back up. According to folks she interviewed at Indiana University, State University of New York, and Northwestern University, the lead levels are so low, visiting kids could eat dirt if they wanted without harm. “I would have no concerns about growing food there,” says one. “I would be happy to grow on that.” (Obama Foodorama)

4 Responsesto “Experts dismiss White House garden lead levels as of no concern”

  1. The National Parks Service tested the White House Community Garden at 93 ppm lead. Why have they not released the levels of other soil toxins routinely found in urban soil, or sludge spread soils? Given that the level of lead is elevated, what are the levels of arsenic, cadmium, and nickel? How about PCBs? I have been phoning up the experts contactd by Eddie Gehman Kohan – author of the original blog slagging the sludged soil concerns. Those I have so far reached never said that it is ok for children to eat soil that contains 93 parts per million lead!  Quite the opposite. Gardeners were to be cautious of the soil, not track it into the house, not eat anything from the garden without washing it, and root vegetables should be peeled. What are the heavy metals in the White House garden. I heard the White House has been ‘remediated’ with sludge 5 times so far.  What a legacy of toxity. The spin is overtaking the truth. Maureen Reilly Sludge Watch

  2. Mitzi says:

    Actually, I live in an urban area, and had my soil tested before planting my backyard garden, due to the presence of a large, painted garage. My soil had lead levels of 103 ppm, which is NOT considered “elevated”. 50 ppm is the background level (in virgin soil, with no human tampering and natural rock weathering) in many parts of the US. Trace amounts (and 0.000103 is trace) of these metals are found in most soils. Yes, I did read in EPA literature that unless I had kids playing in the yard and actually eating more than a teaspoon of dirt every day, it would be totally safe to have levels of lead double what I have. We can grow greens and root vegetables without fear. Only if levels are above 300 ppm are people to start applying the cautions you mention, and above 500 ppm, remediation or container or raised-bed gardening may be recommended, if there are kids in the house. Sludge does not necessarily contain huge amounts of heavy metals, depending on its source, and I seriously doubt that the application of metal-contaminated fertilizer at the Presidential residence would be tolerated. Those levels are fine, and nothing to worry about.

  3. Tim says:

    Maureen Reilly clearly believes what she wants, despite the opinion of true experts.  However, I agree that children should not be eating soil with 93 ppm of lead in it.  My kids eat only virgin alluvial clay mixed with compost we make at home and boiled sand.

  4. Dr Edo McGowan says:

    Sewage sludge and composted sewage sludge can and do contain heavy metals. What is less well discussed is the level of pathogens and their genetic fragments as found in sewage sludge, hence composted sewage sludge.

    Many pathogens require high-level disinfection, examples are the gut pathogens found on endoscopes. From the gut they reach the sewer. Few if any sewer plants can attain this level of disinfection. Sewer plants mainly reach low-level disinfection and that is not good enough, especially with the newly emerging infectious diseases. Consequently, live pathogens are found in sewage sludge and their genetic information is found in composted sewage sludge.

    That this level of disinfection (high level) is an issue may be seen from the news of March 26 in Miami– Congressional leaders called for an investigation, the VA medical center after learning that equipment used in colonoscopies was not properly sterilized. Point here is to show how difficult it is to kill these pathogens.

    There are several good papers discussing pathogens in sewage sludge as well as antibiotic resistant pathogens. Sewer plants are industrial sized generators of antibiotic resistant pathogens. Merely go to Google and then to Pubmed, put in the key words sewage and antibiotic resistance and you will find 368 abstracts of scientific papers on the subject. The interesting thing is that some of these works go back into the 1960s. Thus the question, this information has been around for decades, why have the regulators chosen to ignore this long-standing body of literature? Who is watching for the public health—-certainly not EPA.

    Sara Firl’s paper (The Importance of Municipal Sewage Treatment in the Spread of Antibiotic Resistance) should be read as also the work by Amy Pruden, who received a Presidential award for her work on antibiotic resistant genes (ARGs)and sewage (see citations below).

    ARG are not affected by typical levels of chlorine used in wastewater or drinking water and thus are found for example in drinking water. One of the things that aids all of this is the lack of effectiveness in filter systems used in water treatment (waste or drinking).

    The sewage sludge is a byproduct of sewage treatment, it is the removed solids. What ever goes down the sewer is capable of being found in the sludge (biosoilds). This includes any number of industrial waste that are allowed to be sewered; it also includes untreated mortuary waste and hospital waste. The latter two are major sources of pathogens.

    It will be very difficult to get the EPA to deal with this because it is promoting the land application of sewage sludge. How could that agency both promote the land application of sewage sludge and at the same time admit that sewage sludge is a major source of antibiotic resistance? I was on one of the EPA scientific panels and other scientists besides myself brought up this topic of transmission of antibiotic resistance via sewage sludge, this without any measurable response from the agency.

    The genetic information in compost and sewage sludge that allows for pathogenesis is capable of being transferred to soil bacteria, thus self-perpetuating lending libraries can be established. The pathogens can track up into the flesh of crops, thus no amount of surface washing has any effect.

    The regulators under Bush devised several processes to assure that this subject was not well circulated.

    Dr Edo McGowan


    Sara Firl—-The Importance of Municipal Sewage Treatment in the Spread of Antibiotic Resistance

    106th General Meeting of the American Society for Microbiology
    May 21-25, 2006, Orlando, Florida

    Association of pathogens and antibiotic resistance in sewage byproducts.

    McGowan E.

    J Environ Health. 2009 Mar;71(7):64. No abstract available.

    PMID: 19326673 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]

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    Comment on “antibiotic resistance genes as emerging contaminants: studies in northern Colorado”.

    McGowan E.

    Environ Sci Technol. 2007 Apr 1;41(7):2651-2. No abstract available.

    PMID: 17438829 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]

    Related Articles

    Reducing bioaerosols dispersion from wastewater treatment and its land application: a review and analysis.

    McGowan E.

    J Environ Health. 2006 Jan-Feb;68(6):83; author reply 83. No abstract available.

    PMID: 16483089 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]

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