While there’s certainly no dearth of studies examining the presence of questionable chemicals in household staples such as cleaners, toys, and personal care products, similar studies that focus on gardening gear — hoses, gloves, hand tools, kneeling pads and the like — are a bit more of a rarity.
Well looky here ... HealthyStuff.org, an offshoot of the Ann Arbor-based Ecology Center, is an environmental nonprofit that has tested just about everything under the sun for the presence of toxic chemicals ranging from car seats to handbags. Recently, the group extended its reach into the garden shed and the results, released late last week, may find you thinking twice the next time you give Fido a sip from the garden hose on a hot summer's day.
For the study, the Ecology Center tested a total of 179 run-of-the-mill gardening products — 90 garden hoses, 53 garden gloves, 23 gardening tools, and 13 kneeling pads — for lead, chlorine, bromine, cadmium, phthalates, and bisphenol A (BPA). The results found that slightly more than 70 percent of the products tested contained chemical levels of “high concern."
The presence of both lead and phthalates, particularly in garden hoses, proved to be the most alarming. One hundred percent of the garden hoses tested (all made from PVC) contained phthalates, the notorious plasticizer that’s been linked to hormone disruption, genital birth defects in boys, breast cancer and other maladies. Two hoses contained the flame retardant 2,3,4,5-tetrabromo-bis (2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (TBPH) and 30 percent of all products tested contained lead levels well over 100 parts per million, the Consumer Product Safety Commission standard for lead in children’ products. What's more, the water sampled from one hose contained 0.280 mg/l (ppm) lead while the standard for lead in drinking water is 0.015 mg/l. Not that most folks drink directly from garden hoses, but hey, it happens. High levels of BPA were also found in water samples.
Says Jeff Gearhart, research director at the Ecology Center, in a press release issued by HealthyStuff.org: “Even if you are an organic gardener, doing everything you can to avoid pesticides and fertilizers, you still may be introducing hazardous substances into your soil by using these products. The good news is that healthier choices are out there. Polyurethane or natural rubber water hoses, and non-PVC tools and work gloves, are all better choices.”
Naturally, the folks from the PVC industry are on the defense. Allen Blakey, a spokesman for the Vinyl Institute tells the Los Angeles Times: “Phthalates have never been shown to be a problem in garden hoses. Garden hoses are not made specifically for drinking water. Some people do that, but they don't drink that hot water that's been roasting in the sunlight. The report lacks common sense."
So what to do? In addition to pushing a few PVC-free garden hoses, HealthyStuff.org recommends letting your hose run for a few second before using it, storing your hose in the shade (leaving it on the sun will increase the leaching of chemicals from the PVC into the water), testing your soil for lead, and, of course, avoiding drinking from a garden hose. Additionally, HealthyStuff.org recommends washing your hands after handling a garden hose as lead can be transferred from the hose to your hands.
It’s also worth noting that while the brass found in residential water fixtures is regulated by the Safe Drinking Water Act and must contain less than 2,500 ppm of lead, the brass components of garden hoses are not regulated. In the study, 29 percent of brass garden hose connectors were found to have more than 2,500 ppm lead. HealthyStuff.org recommends investing in a garden hose with non-brass fittings such as stainless steel, nickel or aluminum. As pointed out by the group, lead-free hoses are more likely to be found at marine supply and RV stores than at gardening centers or home improvement retailers.
Click here to see how all 179 of the products tested fared. Each product is ranked “low,” “medium” or “high” to reflect the levels of chemicals found in each one. You can also see the full findings from the study here. Any products that you own make the cut? Think you'll be giving them the old heave-ho this summer?