It was meant to be a show case for healthy living, with the first lady, Michelle Obama, personally putting hand to pitch fork in a crowd of school children to dig up the first White House vegetable garden in more than 50 years.
Instead, an embarrassed White House admitted today that the plot — whose lettuce, herbs and other produce have been consumed by the first family, visiting dignitaries, local school children and a women’s homeless shelter — had tested positive for elevated levels of lead.
A spokeswoman for the White House said 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.
But even though lead levels in the first garden are far below that danger zone, the disclosure is awkward for a White House which has made prominent use of the vegetable garden to define Michelle Obama’s role as First Lady,and to encourage sensible eating habits in children.
Children are expecially vulnerable to exposure to lead, which can cause neurological and kidney damage, and stunt their growth.
On the bright side, they can now grind the veggies up into ethanol and waste taxpayer dollars on one of the other White House vanity projects.