With the weather heating up, our old seen-better-days plastic water table is getting renewed attention, particularly from my 18-month-old. I noticed several weeks ago when I would fill it up with water that I would smell this strong synthetic chemical smell coming from the table. I don't know what kind of plastic the water table is, but it has spent a lot of time in the sun, probably breaking down under the UV light, and I began to wonder if it was OK to let my kids continue to play with it.
And then I saw the latest report from HealthyStuff.org: "Hazardous Chemicals found in Gardening Water Hoses." A few highlights from the report:
- Of the 21 new garden hoses purchased from major retailers like Home Depot, Walmart, and Target, two-thirds were made of polyvinyl chloride (PVC). All of the PVC hoses tested for phthalates contained one or more of the phthalates which have been banned by CPSC in children’s products. Phthalates are not chemically bound to the material and can be released to the air and water.
- One-third of the garden hoses tested contained high levels of one or more chemicals of concern: lead, cadmium, bromine (associated with brominated flame retardants); chlorine (indicating the presence of polyvinyl chloride, or PVC); phthalates and bisphenol A (BPA). These chemicals have been linked to birth defects, impaired learning, liver toxicity, premature births and early puberty in laboratory animals, among other serious health problems.
- Hazardous metals were also found in hoses: for example, organic tin stabilizers (29%); and antimony (52%).
- 14% of the hoses had a level of lead greater than 100 ppm (down from 50% of the 90 hoses tested in 2012). Lead was a big focus of previous reports on garden hoses, and the good news is that consumer pressure seems to have helped get some of the lead out.
- Water sampled from one hose after it was left in the sun for two days contained hazardous levels of BPA and phthalates. BPA levels were 3 to 9 times higher than the safe drinking water level used by NSF and the phthalate DEHP was found at a level is 2 times higher than federal drinking water standards.
PVC, We Meet Again
Of course. The hose! We purchased a new home recently, which entails buying all kinds of fun things, including hoses. Although my husband likes to say that I research-to-death all purchases, sometimes he just takes care of business and goes out and buys something. Like hoses, for example.
I'm guessing the hoses my husband bought were vinyl. The dreaded PVC. In fact, when my husband brought home two new hoses, a little green voice flitted through the back of my mind ("what are those made of?"), but I ignored it. There have been several reports over the years about the contents of garden hoses and what they leach into the water. I now remember reminding my husband not to let the kids drink the water from the hose perhaps a summer or two ago. But it's hard to keep all these different toxic products at the forefront of my mind at all times.
At any rate, after reading HealthyStuff's report, I sprayed the water from the hose onto the grass and smelled the water as it came out. Sure enough, the water reeked of synthetic chemicals. It wasn't the old dilapidated rigid plastic water table (although I'm sure it's up to no good either). It was the stinkin' hose stinking up my water with toxic junk. The hose had been purchased several months earlier though and was now probably too old to be returned. But since I watch my 18-month-old drink the water from the water table all the time using whatever toy she can get her hands on, I decided that the backyard hose at least would have to be replaced.
|My new Rubber Garden Hose.|
Avoiding Toxins from Garden Hoses
Here are some general tips from HealthyStuff.org for avoiding chemicals of concern from garden hoses. These are especially important if you have an older hose and don't know what it's made of exactly.
- Avoid hoses with a California Prop 65 warning that says “this product contains a chemical known to the State of California to cause cancer and birth defects and other reproductive harm.” Buy hoses that are “drinking water safe” and “lead-free.” As discussed above, "drinking water safe" indicates low lead levels, but does not assure that the hose is PVC-free or free of other heavy metals or chemicals of concern (such as BPA, phthalates, and flame retardants).
- Let your hose run for a few seconds before using. Water that has been sitting in the hose will have the highest levels of leached chemicals.
- Store your hose in the shade. The heat from the sun can increase the leaching of chemicals from the PVC into the water. This was not possible for me, especially in the backyard, which is another reason why it was a high priority for me to replace our plastic hose.
- When in doubt, don’t drink water from a hose. Unless you know for sure that the water from a hose is safe for drinking, don’t drink from it. Even low levels of lead may cause health problems, and BPA, phthalates, brominated flame retardants, and other heavy metals aren't good for you either. Don't give the water to your pets or water your garden with it either.
- Avoid PVC/ vinyl. Polyurethane or natural rubber hoses are better choices. Personally, I'd opt for natural rubber if you can.
In Search of a Garden Hose My Kids Can Drink From
Finding a real rubber hose rated well by HealthyStuff.org was surprisingly easy and not terribly expensive (scroll to bottom of this page for ratings). I purchased the Craftsman Premium Heavy-duty Rubber Garden Hose (given a "Low Concern" rating with "Low" or "None" for all chemicals of concern tested). A reader pointed out that this hose actually is labeled "Not approved for drinking water." A quick search for drinking-water-safe hoses on Home Depot brought up two: one made of vinyl (after all, PVC-pipe is used for drinking water), and one that was "lead-free" and "phthalate-free," but whose materials I couldn't figure out from the label or the product website.
You can find drinking-water-safe polyurethane hoses, but note that the the Plastair Springhose Coiled Watering Hose, which is polyurethane and labeled as drinking water safe, was given a rating of "Medium Concern" by HealthyStuff and, at least on Amazon, carries a Prop 65 warning. Given the choice between a polyurethane hose that is "drinking water safe" (i.e., low lead according to CSA and/or using materials approved by FDA for food contact) and a PVC-free rubber hose tested by HealthyStuff for lead plus 6 other heavy metals, I still opt for the rubber hose (I'm hoping/ betting that it's natural rubber not synthetic rubber). You might feel more comfortable with a polyurethane hose that is "drinking water safe." Imperfect choices, to be sure. If you find a rubber hose that is labeled as drinking water safe, let me know.
As soon as we switched from the plastic hose to Craftsman Rubber Hose we immediately smelled the difference in the water. The hose smells like rubber, but the water smells like nothing. I've also tasted the water, and it doesn't taste like anything. My husband loves the soft feel of the hose. It's just a very different texture from the plastic hoses most of us are used to. It doesn't kink because it can't really crease. We have a hose reel and it works really well with it. My husband even suggested that perhaps we should replace the front yard hose as well. (What to do with the nearly new probably vinyl hoses, though. Perhaps sell on Craig's List?)
- What's So Bad About Vinyl Plastic (PVC)?
- Eat Less Plastic
- Avoiding Phthalates in Deodorant and Everywhere Else
- Avoiding Toxins in Baby Products
- Flame Retardants: Toxic, Ineffective, Everywhere
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