The Obama Organic Family Garden: Swimming in Sludge?

When Michelle Obama created an organic vegetable garden on the White House lawn earlier this year, the move was greeted with positive headlines and excitement among the food advocacy community. Here, we thought, was a First Lady who understood the importance of locally grown, whole and organic foods in her family's diet.

Unfortunately, something happened on the way to the realization of the First Lady's good intentions. Recently the National Park Service discovered that the White House lawn, where the garden was planted, contains highly elevated levels of lead -- 93 parts per million. It's enough lead for anyone planning to have children pick vegetables in that garden or eat produce from it to reconsider their plans: lead is highly toxic to children's developing organs and brain functions -- however, it's below the 400 ppm the EPA suggests is a threat to human health.

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State still lets Central Florida's sludge foul Everglades, critics say

Kevin Spear
Sentinel Staff Writer
June 29, 2009

The foul waters of Lake Okeechobee, the failing health of the Everglades and even sick dolphins along the South Florida coast might seem like troubles so distant they could hardly be the Orlando area's responsibility.

Yet a Florida law — which environmentalists say is being thwarted by state officials — says otherwise, banning a decades-old practice set in motion when a toilet is flushed or a kitchen sink is drained in Central Florida.

Treatment of that watery waste produces sludge, which local sewage utilities at least partly disinfect and dispose of as fertilizer. A lot of that fertilizer winds up on cattle ranches and citrus groves south of Orlando, where rain runoff and flooding can release chemicals that poison the wetlands and waterways from here to Florida Bay.

The Florida Legislature passed a law two years ago that environmental activists took as a victory that calls for an end to spreading of sludge within a vast area that drains into Osceola County's large lakes and then south to the Kissimmee River, Lake Okeechobee, the Everglades and the coastal estuaries of South Florida.

'Wreaking havoc'?

Now those environmentalists are accusing state officials of sidestepping the law, even as the Everglades watershed gets sicker by the day.

"There's a continued buildup of a pollutant that's wreaking havoc with the ecosystem," said Eric Draper, Audubon of Florida's policy director in Tallahassee. "It's going to be extremely expensive to clean up."

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'Humanure' Victory: Green Toilet Wins Austin City Approval

Composting commode is first to gain official stamp.

by Asher Price

It took more than four years of negotiations and construction, but this month an Austin Water Utility inspector gave final clearance to a glorified outhouse that is on the vanguard of down-and-dirty environmentalism.

Known as a composting toilet, the East Austin commode relies on the alchemy wrought by bacteria to transform human waste into a rich trove of soil. Specialists in so-called humanure have hailed the approval of the toilet as a watershed moment for common-sense environmentalism.

Monica Conyers pleads guilty in Synagro scandal

Paul Egan / The Detroit News

Detroit -- Detroit City Council Pro Tem Monica Conyers pleaded guilty to a five-year felony today in connection with the city sludge hauling scandal today.

Conyers, 44, spoke softly in federal court as she admitted taking bribes in connection with $1.2 billion Synagro Technologies Inc. contract the Detroit City Council awarded in 2007.

Did Sewage Sludge Lace the White House Veggie Garden With Lead?

In March, Michelle Obama delighted locavores when she planted an "organic" vegetable garden on the White House's South Lawn. For years, Alice Waters, Michael Pollan, and other sustainable food activists had been pushing the idea as a way to reseed interest in do-it-yourself agriculture. Less than two months later, the National Park Service disclosed that the garden's soil was contaminated with toxic lead, and the plot's educational value took on a new flavor as the New York Times and other papers discussed how to make urban backyards that are laced with old lead-based paint safe for growing kale and cauliflower. But those stories might have fingered the wrong culprit.

Starting in the late 1980s and continuing for at least a decade, the South Lawn was fertilized by ComPRO, a compost made from a nearby wastewater plant's solid effluent, a.ka. sewage sludge. Sludge is controversial because it can contain traces of almost anything that gets poured down the drain, from Prozac flushed down toilets to lead hosed off factory floors. Spreading sludge at the White House was a way for the EPA to reassure the public that using it as a fertilizer for crops and yards (instead of dumping it in the ocean, as had been common practice) would be safe. "The Clintons are walking around on poo," the EPA's sludge chief quipped in 1998, "but it's very clean poo."

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Synagro official pleads guilty to bribing Detroit Council member

Monday, June 15, 2009
Paul Egan and Leonard N. Fleming / The Detroit News

Detroit --A Detroit businessman pleaded guilty in federal court Monday to paying more than $6,000 in bribes to an unnamed Detroit City Council member in a plea deal that promises the government will not bring charges against his brother.

"I conspired with others to provide money to elected officials in exchange for favorable votes before the City of Detroit," Rayford W. Jackson, 44, of Detroit told U.S. District Judge Avern Cohn.

The council member Jackson admitted to bribing is not identified in court documents, which use the term "Council Member A."

However, federal agents have electronic surveillance evidence linking City Councilwoman Monica Conyers to receiving alleged payments in connection with a $1.2 billion Synagro Technologies Inc. sewage contract, persons familiar with the investigation have told The Detroit News.

Fish from river tainted with contaminants from sewage sludges spread on farms

Fish from river may be tainted
Published: Saturday, June 13, 2009 at 6:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, June 12, 2009 at 11:40 p.m.

Numerous reports in the Decatur Daily recently about problems caused by Teflon by-products in sewage sludge that was spread on farmland in Morgan and Lawrence counties that polluted ponds, wells and soil and contaminated cattle living on the farms piqued my curiosity about what impact it might have had on fish in the Tennessee River.

Several industries in the Decatur area use the chemical PFOA or perfluoroonctanoic acid in their manufacturing process. When the industries discharge PFOA-tainted waste into the Deactur's sewer system, the sludge is contaminated. I suspected that the waste water from the sewage treatment plant that is discharged into the Tennessee River might also be contaminated.

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