Next target for the anti-plastic crowd: Your garden hose

New study warns about health risks related to lead, phthalates and hazardous flame retardants in garden hoses

Advocacy group the Ecology Center (Ann Arbor, MI) has just released a new study that shows many plastic garden and yard water hoses contain high levels of toxic lead and phthalate chemicals. The new research discovered that half of the PVC hoses tested contained electronic waste (e-waste) vinyl contaminated with toxic chemicals.

water play
Image courtesy chrisroll/
freedigitalphotos.net.

The researchers tested 32 garden hoses from six national retailers, including The Home Depot, Lowe’s and Amazon, for lead, cadmium, phthalates, bromine (associated with brominated flame retardants), PVC, antimony and tin (indicating oganotins). Water from select hoses was also tested. Such chemicals, said a press release announcing the study’s results, have been linked to birth defects, impaired learning, liver toxicity, premature births and early puberty in laboratory animals, and hormone disruption among other serious health problems. Results were released last week at www.HealthyStuff.org.

The report calls on national retailers and manufacturers to phase out the use of lead, phthalates and contaminated vinyl scrap plastic in garden hoses. “Even if you actively avoid putting harmful chemicals into your yard or garden in the form of pesticides, you could still be adding hazardous chemicals into your soil by watering with one of these hoses,” said Gillian Miller, PhD, staff scientist at the Ecology Center. “The good news is that none of these chemicals are necessary in garden hoses, and a number of safe hoses are available.”

It seems that nothing is safe from the plastic fear mongers.

This isn’t the first such report. In researching this so-called problem, I found that every summer—usually in June or the first part of July—Healthy Stuff releases its newest report on toxic garden hoses. This is to ensure you get your summer off to a fearful start. These reports go back as far as 2012, with one appearing on July 3, 2014, then updated on June 29, 2015.

Other publications pick up these reports and re-publish them as “science,” which is what mercola.com did,  when it published Healthy Stuff’s study in its June 24, 2014, online publication. Dr. Mercola goes through the usual laundry list of all the toxic chemicals that plastics contain, and explains why people should use alternative materials such as “glass dishware, storage containers and drinking bottles in lieu of plastics.” He’s at least smart enough to note that there are no “glass garden hoses.”

Supposedly, watering your garden with one of the toxic hoses sprays your vegetables with toxic chemicals that leach out of the hoses and into your food, especially in summer when the water running through the hoses is hot. Dr. Mercola recommends letting the water run until it’s cold because “the water that’s been left sitting in your hose, and heating up in the sun, will be the most chemical-laden.”

In Arizona that would mean letting water run somewhere (into the ground where it goes into the soil and ultimately into underground aquifers? Or into the gutter on the street and into the city water system?). But that means a lot of wasted water, and we live in a world in which potable water is becoming in short supply. In the deserts of the Southwest, we’re encouraged not to waste water but to conserve it. I’m not sure how “green” the good doctor’s advice really is.

On one website, Free-Range Kids: How to Raise Safe, Self-Reliant Children (Without Going Nuts with Worry), I found an excerpt from a book by Julie Gunlock (her real name—not a political statement, the heading notes), From Cupcakes to Chemicals: How the Culture of Alarmism Makes us Afraid of Everything and How to Fight Back. She writes:

“A few years ago I was watching the news and was shocked to learn that my garden hose was incredibly dangerous. Say what? The newscaster anchoring the program that night seemed really upset about this story. He leaned forward in his seat, stuttered . . . and . . . wait . . . did I see him tear up? Did his voice just crack? Oh my gosh, he’s going to cry!

This.is.a.serious.problem. SOMETHING MUST BE DONE! NOW!

Yet the facts behind the ‘killer garden hoses lurking in your backyard’ are hardly scary. The news story centered on the fact that most garden hoses are made of polyvinyl chloride, better known as PVC. PVC has high levels of lead and other chemicals and, therefore, the claim was that since children and pets sometimes drink from garden hoses, they were getting big doses of toxins when taking the occasional sip.

But before you read any more, just think about it: Do children and pets really drink a lot of water from garden hoses? Is the garden hose a main source of water for children and pets? Are they drinking gallons of water this way?

. . . in general, kids do not get the bulk of their water in any given day—much less during their lives—from the garden hose.

I was lucky I had time to look into this story and question its merits. I was able to ignore the hysteria and consider the facts. And those facts are reassuring. Most garden hoses are indeed made of polyvinyl chloride, which is toxic if consumed in large quantities. Yet it is impossible—let me repeat that word, impossible—for a human to consume enough water to reach toxic levels of PVC exposure. Why is this impossible? Because the amount of chemical that leaches into the water is so miniscule that a person would have to consume massive amounts of garden hose water in order for it to be a problem. And if a person attempted to drink the amount of water required to reach PVC toxicity, they’d first die of dilutional hyponatremia—death by water overdose.”

Finally some common sense leaking through all the hype! Some of the findings from Healthy Stuff noted 100 ppm up to 68,000 ppm of lead in PVC hoses. While one of those numbers sounds really big, it is actually quite miniscule. BPA—the additive that these advocacy groups love to hate—was as high as 87 ppb (yes, that’s parts per billion). OMG!  Some were found to contain bromine (used in flame retardants just in case your hose catches on fire); antimony (a mineral found in batteries, glasses and pottery. Oops! Throw out the glassware and stoneware! The ancient Egyptians used it as eyeliner); and tin (don’t carry your water in a metal bucket—it might have tin in it).

The advice to “let the hose run until the water sitting in the hose is now in the ground” is a waste of water. Avoid the sun by storing the hose in the shade—sorry, but here in the desert southwest when it’s 115 degrees that doesn’t even work in the shade! In fact, that’s a good deterrent to drinking from the water hose in Phoenix because you’ll burn your tongue off! Talk about health problems! You’ll never taste a steak from the barbeque again! Oh, I forgot, charcoal briquettes are also toxic.

Darn! You just can’t have a good time anymore!

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