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Since You Asked: White House garden produce is safe from toxins

After the White House vegetable garden was made, the Obamas had the soil tested. They found it had too much iron or something. I would like to know if they saved the garden or if it had to be plowed under.

— D.L.R., Medford

Like good urban gardeners should, the White House crew tested the soil for health and contaminants including lead. The tests found that the soil in that section of the South Lawn contained 93 parts per million of lead, a heavy metal that can cause neurological and kidney damage, especially in children.

While the test results were well below the 400 ppm considered hazardous by the Environmental Protection Agency, it is above the more stringent goals recommended by some countries such as the Netherlands, at 40 ppm, The New York Times reported earlier this month.

The result generated a slew of stories about the contamination that echoed across the Internet, with each blog post heightening the panic with headlines about toxic nightmares.

The White House, The New York Times, The Baltimore Sun and a handful of bloggers set about debunking those claims and reassuring gardeners.

The Times reported on Aug. 12 that to ensure the soil's safety, gardeners added lime, green sand, crab meal and compost prepared by the National Park Service to enhance the nutrients and adjust the pH to a level that keeps the lead unavailable to plants.

Obama Foodorama, a purportedly bipartisan blog about the president's food, reported last week that the most recent tests found a lead level of only 14 ppm. News reports also indicate that herbs, lettuce and other produce from the garden were served at the White House and shared with food pantries and shelters.

Send questions to "Since You Asked," Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by e-mail to youasked@mailtribune.com. We're sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.