If you’re like me, almost every day you read reports of some new toxic threat in food, water, cosmetics, or household cleaners.
It’s a tough job keeping up, especially distinguishing real threats from the hyper-vigilance of the worried well .
In May the Michigan environmental group Ecology Center released its 2012 Garden Products Study , which reported research that examined 179 common garden products, including hoses, gloves, kneeling pads, and garden tools for evidence of toxic substances.
Researchers found more than two-thirds of the products tested contained high levels of one or more toxic substances (including lead), chemicals linked to many such adverse health effects as “birth defects, impaired learning, liver toxicity, premature births, and early puberty in lab animals.”
Toxic garden hoses?
And unlike standards that govern public drinking water  and the infrastructure that delivers it, no regulations establish safety standards for garden hoses and the fittings that connect them. It’s buyer beware.
Especially concerning for me: the number and amounts of number of toxic substances that leach from PVC garden hose.
For years, we’ve run several hundred feet of cheap PVC hose to our various gardens and the food plants inside our solar greenhouse.
Switching to drinking-water safe hose (rubber or polyurethane) and lead-free couplings will require both research and money, so we’ll plan to do it in stages.
In the meanwhile, we’re following the experts’ suggestions for continuing to use our existing hoses:
- Letting the water run to get the standing water out of the hose before watering food crops
- Minimizing the hoses' exposure to direct sunlight. The heat of the sun on water stored in the hose increases the amount of toxins leaching from the hose.
- Not drinking from the hose or using it to water the chickens. If we had pets, we wouldn't fill their water bowls from the hose.
- Looking for safer hose couplings. Ecology Center’s tests showed that 29 percent of brass hose connectors contained unsafe levels of lead. Researchers suggest non-brass couplings of stainless steel, aluminum or nickel.
Margaret Boyles lives in a wood-heated house in central New Hampshire. She grows vegetables, eats weeds, keeps chickens, swims in a backyard pond in summer, snowshoes in the surrounding woods in winter, and commutes by bike whenever possible.