As a gardener, I’m always sipping water from the hose — especially during these brutally hot days when I have no choice but to get out and weed. You can imagine how dismayed I was to come upon research released by the Ecology Center, which tested water coming from standard garden hoses and found that it can contain lead, endocrine disruptors and neurotoxins, especially in older hoses.
Hose fittings contain brass, an alloy that can contain up to 8% lead. One in three hoses tested had levels of lead that exceeded drinking water standards — one as high as 18 times the level. It turns out that hoses aren’t covered by the same lead laws that govern plumbing fixtures — even though those hoses are watering our food. Lead is also used as a stabilizer or pigment in the tube, especially in yellow and green hoses, which are practically ubiquitous. Lead is a potent neurotoxin that especially affects children. Newer hoses, purchased since 2007, when a lawsuit led by California required labeling on hoses, might be lead-free, although Consumer Reports testing in 2011 still found lead in new hoses.
But no one has regulated BPA, an endocrine disruptor, out of garden hoses, although the FDA did recently ban it from sippy cups and baby bottles. The level of BPA in water from hoses can be up to 20 times higher than what the National Science Foundation considers safe. Then there are the endocrine disruptors. PVC (nicknamed “poison plastic”) hoses — most vinyl hoses — contain phthalates, used as plasticizers, which leach into hose water. Pthalates are endocrine disrupters, and some studies link them to liver cancer. Even some hoses made from recycled materials contained flame retardants and heavy metals, cadmium and antimony, leading the researchers to wonder if manufacturers had recycled flame retardant-treated plastics.
The Ecology Center offers a list of safe garden hoses, as well as a few tips: replace vinyl hoses with natural rubber hoses. Let the water run a few moments before watering plants (because you have to consider what kinds of toxics you are putting on your edibles, as well.) Store your hose in the shade.
But here’s the deeper problem: I can’t tell, looking at a hose, whether or not it is safe. Only a large scale overhaul of the regulations that govern what chemicals get into our stuff, such as the Safe Chemicals Act, can begin to protect us. Why should I have to worry about these things? Isn’t the heat wave and the drought enough cause for concern these days?
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