Refreshing, yes, but is it safe? Photo: http://www.aeropaca.org
Well, who hasn’t done it? It’s a hot day, you’re thirsty, but you’re at the far end of the garden and the hose is right there, so you turn it on and take a bit of a sip. Harmless, right?
Garden hoses were not designed to supply potable (drinking quality) water. The hose and its brass fittings can release lead, antimony, bromine and other toxic minerals. Also, phthalates are used to make the hose more flexible and these too are toxic. BPA is also found in many hoses. The most common plastic used in making garden hose is polyvinyl chloride, which may give off toxic vinyl chloride. Of course, what the hose is made from and what leaches into the water it produces can be very different, but even so…
A study published in 2016 by the Ecology Center in Ann Arbor, Michigan that tested 32 commercially available garden hoses found lead levels exceeding safe levels in water in half the garden hoses tested while the water produced by some hoses had very high levels of phthalates and BPA.
There is good, news, though. The same study found the levels of toxic materials are decreasing compared to a previous study, as hose producers have started switching to safer garden hoses. Less lead is being used in fittings (some are now labeled “lead-free”) and you can now find hoses labeled “drinking water safe” that are free of significant lead, bromine, antimony, and tin, although a few do give off phthalates. The best choice for safety concerned consumers is PVC-free hose, such as one made of polyurethane or natural rubber.
Oddly, you may have trouble finding a drinking water safe garden hose in the garden hose section of your hardware store. If so, look into the camping supplies or boat supplies departments. They’re bound to have safe hoses.
If You Must Drink…
- Let the hose run for 5 seconds before drinking. It’s water that’s been sitting in the hose that will have the highest levels of chemicals.
- Store your hose in the shade. The heat from the sun causes chemicals to leach into the water. If it was stored in the sun, let it run cool before drinking.
- Don’t let children drink from garden hoses. They’re more sensitive to harmful chemicals than adults. Before you even fill a child’s wading pool, let the water run for a while.
- Apply the same rules before letting your pet drink from garden hoses, that is, let it run for a while first.
And What About Your Vegetables?
So much for drinking from the hose, but how safe are vegetables watered with a garden hose?
Toxic levels of lead do occur in produce, but are inevitably due to contaminated soils, not to watering. High levels of phthalates are occasionally found in organically grown vegetables as well, but phthalates are so common in our environment that it’s hard to prove they are due to the use of garden hose.
So, there is no real proof that watering with a garden hose renders vegetables unsafe.
Even so, if you garden organically, you might want to consider switching to a drinking water safe hose.