Toxic Garden Tools?

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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 hypervigilance of the worried well.

In 2012, the Michigan environmental group Ecology Center released its 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 requires both research and money, so allow some time for the switchover.

In the meantime, if you’re using suspect existing hoses:

  • Let the water run to get the standing water out of the hose before watering food crops.
  • Minimize the hoses’ exposure to direct sunlight. The heat of the sun on water stored in the hose increases the amount of toxins leaching from it.
  • Don’t drink from a hose. 
  • Don’t fill pets’ water bowls from a hose or use it to water the chickens.
  • Look 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. 
About The Author

Margaret Boyles

Margaret Boyles is a longtime contributor to The Old Farmer’s Almanac. She wrote for UNH Cooperative Extension, managed NH Outside, and contributes to various media covering environmental and human health issues. Read More from Margaret Boyles

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