Is Your Garden Hose Toxic?

By Dawn Gifford

It’s summertime, and it’s hot. What could be more wholesome and refreshing on a hot, sunny day than kids running through the sprinkler and drinking from the garden hose, right?

But what if that hose is delivering a heavy dose of heavy metals and toxic plasticizers to your children and your garden?

According to the Ecology Center, the average garden hose delivers a veritable soup of toxins. They tested 32 new garden hoses from Amazon, Lowe’s, Home Depot, Walmart, Target, and Meijer, and analyzed levels of lead, cadmium, tin, mercury, arsenic, antimony, bromine (associated with brominated flame retardants), chlorine (indicating the presence of polyvinyl chloride, or PVC), phthalates and bisphenol A (BPA).

Read: The Garden Hose Study

These metals and chemicals have been linked to birth defects, impaired learning, diabetes, obesity, liver toxicity, premature births, hormone disruption, cancer, and infertility, among other health problems.

Most of the hoses they tested were made from PVC, a toxic plastic that often contains phthalates, BPA and organotins, all of which can interfere with hormonal and reproductive development and 38 percent of the hoses also contained bromine and antimony, chemicals that can lead to thyroid, kidney and liver damage with prolonged exposure.

The hoses were also tested for phthalates, a class of chemicals added to plastics and cosmetic products to keep them soft and flexible. Phthalates have been linked to hormonal imbalances, cancer, sterility in men, lowered IQ, and behavioral problems in children. Seventy-five percent of all the PVC hoses contained phthalates, and even a few of the “drinking water safe” hoses contained phthalates.

Finally, they left seven hoses filled with water to sit outside in the sun for two days, and then tested the water to see what was in it. The hose water contained lead, phthalates and BPA at levels much higher than the drinking water limits set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Food and Drug Administration.

If that weren’t bad enough, it's not just the hose itself that is toxic. Metal fixtures on hoses aren’t required to adhere to the limits on heavy metals that home faucets are, so even if the plastic itself is safe, the connectors could be adding lead to your water.

One-third of hoses tested had lead levels over 100ppm. There is no safe limit for lead, and even the tiniest amounts can be poisonous.

Garden hoses can pollute your garden too

But it’s not just your kids, livestock, and pets drinking the water that you have to worry about. Although the Ecology Center didn’t test for antimony, phthalates, or BPA in the plants watered with these hoses, Jeff Gearhart, research director at Ecology Center, says it’s very possible that your hose could be contaminating your vegetable garden too.

“We know that these chemicals make it into plants,” he says, referring to studies that have found high levels of phthalates in organic food. “We just can’t show a connection between hoses and chemicals showing up in a plant.”

Fortunately, there are much safer hose alternatives available if you know how to find them. While no garden hose is perfect, there are some safer choices:

Choose a rubber hose. Natural rubber hoses don’t need phthalates, BPA or UV stabilizers to keep them flexible. The Craftsman Premium Rubber hose earned the “Low Hazard” rating in the Ecology Center’s tests, though it is not rated “drinking water safe.”

Choose “drinking water safe” hoses. The safest garden hoses have the label “drinking water safe.” Many of these garden hoses are also labeled “lead-free”, “BPA-free” and “phthalate-free.” Two great choices are the Water Right hose or the Camco hose.

Store your hose in a cool, dark place. Heat and sunlight can break down your hose, no matter what it’s made from, and increase the leaching of chemicals into the water. Keeping your hose out of the heat and sun will also greatly extend its life.

Let your hose run a bit before using the water from it. This will flush out any metals or chemicals sitting in your hose that have leached into the water while you weren’t using it.

Dawn Gifford is an award-winning sustainability expert and founder of the blog Small Footprint Family, where this post originally appeared. Used with permission.