White House garden lead scare a bit overblown

July 3, 2009

Read the Web much and you might think first lady Michelle Obama’s vegetable garden has turned into a lead-laden nightmare that threatens to poison the first family and any stray child gardener who happens onto the White House grounds.
Not so says the first lady’s office.
OBAMA/The White House had the soil tested for safety purposes, and the results showed lead at 93 parts per million — higher than typical background levels in urban areas, but low enough not to be considered a health risk.
Penn State’s College of Agriculture Sciences, for example, says anything under 150 parts per million is either not contaminated or has very low lead contamination. It does not recommend any action for gardening in soils with those lead levels.
“The garden recently underwent extensive soil testing that proved it is completely safe,” said Katie McCormick Lelyveld, the first lady’s press secretary.
“A lead level of 93 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 opportunity about healthy eating, and they’ll continue to do so.”
While the garden is often referred to as being organic, the White House says it his never made that claim. It takes three years to certify an organic garden, with different standards applying.
Children from Bancroft Elementary School helped Michelle Obama break ground on the garden back in March and returned in April to plant seedlings.
They were back again in mid-June for harvesting. The garden produced lettuce, snap peas, beans, kale, collards and chard, White House associate chef Sam Kass said at the time. It also has produced broccoli, green beans, an eggplant, a cucumber and herbs.
No chemicals, fertilizer or herbicides were used on the garden, though lime, greens and compost and crab shell meal were added to the earth.
Most food crops do well in slightly acidic soil. Adding lime reduces the soil’s acidity and also lowers the impact of lead. Greensand adds iron and potassium and other elements. Crab meal is rich in calcium, nitrogen and potassium, making it a good organic fertilizer.
For more Reuters political news, please click here.

Photo credit: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst (Top: Obama harvesting garden with school kids in mid-June; Bottom: Obama planting herbs in early April)


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Lime does not increase acidity, it counteracts it.

Posted by Bill in Detroit | Report as abusive

Soil/lead experts debunk the myth that the lead level in the White House Kitchen Garden is dangerous, and point out that it’s politically inflammatory to claim that the garden is “contaminated”


Posted by ObamaFoodorama | Report as abusive

Lime does indeed counteract acidity. I’ve rephrased that line to make it clear. Thanks

Posted by David Alexander | Report as abusive

ummm – greensand, lime, crab meal, etc ARE chemicals – everything is chemicals. Natural fertilizers are chemicals. The human body is chemicals.

I think you mean synthetic fertilizers.

Posted by Cynthia | Report as abusive


Not a big deal but it is spelled “gardener.” You forgot an ‘e’ in the first paragraph.

Posted by Chicago Garden | Report as abusive

Thanks Chicago Garden, I’ve added the missing e.

Posted by David Alexander | Report as abusive