Common garden tools found to contain toxic chemicals

Posted May 14, 2012, at 8:47 a.m.
Metro Creative

While there’s no dearth of studies examining the presence of questionable chemicals in household staples such as cleaners, toys, and personal care products, similar studies that focus on gardening gear _ hoses, gloves, hand tools, kneeling pads and the like _ are rarer.

HealthyStuff.org, an offshoot of the Ecology Center in Ann Arbor, Mich., is an environmental nonprofit that has tested just about everything under the sun for the presence of toxic chemicals. Recently, the group extended its reach into the garden shed and the results may have you think twice before giving your dog a sip from the garden hose on a hot summer day.

For the study, the Ecology Center tested 179 run-of-the-mill gardening products _ 90 garden hoses, 53 garden gloves, 23 gardening tools, and 13 knee pads _ for lead, chlorine, bromine, cadmium, phthalates, and bisphenol A (BPA). The results found that slightly more than 70 percent of the products tested contained chemical levels of “high concern.”

The presence of both lead and phthalates, particularly in garden hoses, proved to be the most alarming. All of the garden hoses tested (all made from PVC) contained phthalates, the notorious plasticizer that’s been linked to hormone disruption, genital birth defects in boys, breast cancer and other maladies. Two hoses contained the flame retardant 2,3,4,5-tetrabromo-bis (2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (TBPH), and 30 percent of all products tested contained lead levels well over 100 parts per million, the Consumer Product Safety Commission standard for lead in children’ products.

“Even if you are an organic gardener, doing everything you can to avoid pesticides and fertilizers, you still may be introducing hazardous substances into your soil by using these products, Jeff Gearhart, research director at the Ecology Center, said in a press release. “The good news is that healthier choices are out there. Polyurethane or natural rubber water hoses, and non-PVC tools and work gloves, are all better choices.”

The PVC industry in on the defensive. Allen Blakey, a spokesman for the Vinyl Institute, told tells the Los Angeles Times: “Phthalates have never been shown to be a problem in garden hoses. Garden hoses are not made specifically for drinking water. Some people do that, but they don’t drink that hot water that’s been roasting in the sunlight. The report lacks common sense.”

In addition to pushing a few PVC-free garden hoses, HealthyStuff.org recommends letting your hose run for a few seconds before using it, storing your hose in the shade (leaving it on the sun will increase the leaching of chemicals from the PVC into the water), testing your soil for lead, and, avoiding drinking from a garden hose. Additionally, HealthyStuff.org recommends washing your hands after handling a garden hose, because as lead can be transferred from the hose to your hands.

It’s also worth noting that while the brass found in residential water fixtures is regulated by the Safe Drinking Water Act and must contain less than 2,500 ppm of lead, the brass components of garden hoses are not regulated. In the study, 29 percent of brass garden hose connectors were found to have more than 2,500 ppm lead. HealthyStuff.org recommends investing in a garden hose with non-brass fittings such as stainless steel, nickel or aluminum. As pointed out by the group, lead-free hoses are more likely to be found at marine supply and RV stores than at gardening centers or home improvement retailers.

Go to http://www.healthystuff.org/ to see how all 179 of the products tested fared.

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