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We’re all working hard to be conscious consumers. At the grocery store, we read labels exhaustively and say “no” to plastic packaging whenever we can. We choose safe wooden toys for our kids, avoid poisonous cleaning products, and even grow our own organic vegetables. But wait! After all that effort, are we unknowingly spraying that lovely healthful produce with phthalates, BPA, lead and more?

A garden products study completed by The Ecology Center looked at 90 different garden hoses and discovered disturbing levels of each of those chemicals. Some of the toxin levels exceeded safe drinking water standards by 20 times or more.

We’ve all had to face some hard facts in recent years: it turns out there is no pristine environment anymore, and even those living in isolated wild places face contamination of the air, soil, and groundwater. But we can take steps to stop contributing to the problem in our own backyards with unsafe hoses. Rather than throw up our hands in despair, we can spread awareness about this lesser-known home health hazard. Not all hoses are created equal, and you can change your watering practices to help your hose do its job without spraying neurotoxins and endocrine disruptors. Because let’s face it: our bodies have enough to deal with in our modern environment without adding to their burden.

Choose your hose with care

If your hose was purchased before 2007, it’s likely to contain lead.

The brass fittings can contain up to 8% lead, and lead may be used in pigments and stabilizers. Green and yellow hoses are particularly likely culprits. Hoses bought after 2007 are governed by a labeling law resulting from a California lawsuit, though product testing still found lead in newer hoses. Choose a new hose labeled as “lead-free”. Tip: check marine or RV stores for lead-free hoses marketed for use in boats or motor homes. These hoses, often white or beige with a thin blue stripe, work well as safe garden hoses. Look for the claim: “drinking water safe”.

Natural rubber hoses are less bright and glossy than PVC, often red or black in color.

Natural rubber hoses are less bright and glossy than PVC, often red or black in color.

Most vinyl hoses are made from PVC ominously nicknamed “poison plastic”.

PVC relies on phthalates to provide flexibility and elasticity, but these chemicals have received lots of bad press. They are endocrine disruptors, causing problems to human reproductive development, and have been linked to liver cancer. Choose natural rubber hoses instead. Food-grade polyurethane is another good option.

Choose non-brass fittings, made of stainless steel, nickel, or aluminum.

These metals are more likely to be lead-free, and meet drinking water standards. These soaker hoses made from old rubber tires have nickel plating over the brass fittings to reduce the possibility of leaching lead.

Read labels carefully, even the small print.

Watch out for hoses containing a warning citing California Prop 65, stating “this product contains a chemical known to the State of California to cause cancer and birth defects and other reproductive harm.” It’s worth a few extra dollars to invest in a hose that will help you enjoy years of watering with your mind at ease.

Ask the FDA to regulate hose safety.

The Safe Chemicals Act and Safe Drinking Water Act<, which attempt to protect Americans from known health hazards in our food and household products, does not cover garden hoses or other gardening products.

Change your hose habits

A reel cart makes storing your hose in the shed or garage easy, but there are also low-tech options.

A reel cart makes storing your hose in the shed or garage easy, but there are also low-tech options.

Always store your hose in the shade.

Even a few hours of sun will heat the water in the hose, greatly increasing chemical leaching. Even if you have a natural rubber hose, shade storage will prolong its life by decreasing photodegradation.

Let it run.

Unless you’re fully confident in your hose’s safety, spray the stored water somewhere other than on your food garden. The alarming levels of chemicals found in the study came from water that sat in the hose for a few days. Don’t let children play in water that has been stored in any kind of non-food-safe plastic. Lead, BPA, and phthalates are all especially dangerous to young developing bodies and brains.

Never drink from your hose.

Remember, even if your hose is new, there is no regulatory oversight of its manufacturing. Product testing showed all kinds of unexpected chemicals, including flame retardants and heavy metals like cadmium, in hoses made from recycled materials. The recycled plastic may have been originally used for a variety of purposes requiring such additives. Until your hose is required to conform to drinking water standards, what comes out of it should not be considered drinking water, even for pets.

Eartheasy is now stocking 100% drinking water safe hoses. ‘Click here’ to buy.

Test your soil.

Find out if your yard or garden contains elevated levels of lead resulting from old lead paint, environmental factors, or unhealthy hoses. If you have children playing in your yard even occasionally, this is a must. While you’re at it, it can be very informative to get an overall soil profile, including basic nutrients and pH for maximizing your gardens potential.

Test your hose water.

Use a simple drinking water test to find out what your hose is leaching. To get the full picture, test the water in your hose after it has sat in the sun for three days.

New hoses and fittings also help eliminate water-wasting leaks.

New hoses and fittings also help eliminate water-wasting leaks.

If you do discover lead in your soil from an old hose, old paint, or industrial pollution, the good news is that lead is not readily taken up by fruiting plants such as tomatoes and squash. Leafy greens like lettuce are more likely to absorb a little lead, so if you grow lots of greens, you might want to import some clean topsoil and put it in a raised bed. If your garden does have some lead, make sure you scrub or peel your root vegetables well to avoid eating the contaminated soil. Though less thoroughly researched, it appears that BPA and phthalates may act similarly to lead: they concentrate in leafy greens more than fruiting vegetables or seeds.

The Ecology Center’s study found the same worrying toxins in garden gloves, kneepads, and tools. These chemicals can be absorbed through the skin, and some of us spend a lot of time in our gardens.

If you’re reading this, you’ve probably already taken steps to detoxify your home environment and grocery list. Many of us never questioned the innocent-looking hoses and garden implements we grew up with, though they have changed subtly over the years, as “advances” in technology allowed phthalates to improve the products’ plasticity.

Summer in America means kids laughing and leaping through the hose’s spray. Peaceful mornings in the garden, watching the tomatoes redden while we shower the squash and bean plants. Luckily, a bad hose doesn’t have to poison these pleasures; there are enough other reasons to lose sleep. Buy a new hose, made of natural rubber or polyurethane, and store it in the shade. As chemical hazards go, a toxic garden hose is an easy fix.

Eartheasy is now stocking 100% drinking water safe hoses. ‘Click here’ to buy.