The last place I expected to find worrisome amounts of lead is in something designed to pipe water around the home — like a garden hose. But HealthyStoff.org (a project of the Michigan-based Ecology Center) tested 21 hoses, and found lead, phthalates, BPA, and other compounds of concern, including chemicals that have been banned from children’s toys. In a test where they left a hose in the sun for two days and then tested the water, BPA and phthalates far exceeded federal drinking-water standards.
I had never given it much thought — sure, garden hoses aren’t really built for drinking out of, but they’re used all the time for water we end up ingesting, whether that’s watering the garden, playing in a sprinkler, or filling up a water jug to take camping. If you had asked me yesterday, I’d have guessed that maybe they’re not officially food-safe, but they must meet some kind of standard, right?
There is no federal oversight of hose water. The reps I contacted at the Environmental Protection Agency’s media relations couldn’t even figure out who I should be talking to who might regulate hoses. The federal Reduction of Lead in Drinking Water Act, which took effect on January 4, 2014, mandates strict standards for lead in all sorts of plumbing… but not hoses. Some hose companies say their hoses are “drinking water safe.” That statement doesn’t have any legal meaning. [ThisSweetHome.com]
Many cheaper hoses are vinyl, which use phthalate-containing plasticizers, lead, and other heavy metals in their manufacture. The brass couplings also contain lead as part of the alloy. As better alternatives, several brands make rubber hoses (I’m finding them as “commercial” or “contractor” hoses in some cases — rubber is heavy and heavy-duty), and a couple use a food-grade polyurethane as a lighter (but pricier) alternative. For connectors, nickel- or chrome-coated brass (lead in the brass is safely encased; this also helps prevent corrosion) seem to be the most durable options; aluminum or plastic are also available. Unfortunately, HealthyStuff.org has rearranged its website and its internal links are messed up, so I’m not able to find all the testing info they have
In hindsight, I’m glad the cheap (vinyl, uncoated brass) hoses we got to hook up our garden soaker-irrigation system leaked right away. Googling around for more durable hoses brought me to the ThisSweetHome.com review with a lot of good information on hose toxicity as well as durability and useability (recommended reading!). In our garden setup, there’s always going to be water sitting in the hose for a few days in between waterings (automated, using a sprinkler timer) — ideal conditions for leaching metals and organic pollutants from the hose into the water, and directly into our food garden. In the end I went a Sears Craftsman rubber hose, largely based on price and availability. Rubber hoses are heavy, but as garden “plumbing” they’re going to be left in place so the extra weight keeping them in place is actually a benefit. But check out the review for other options, and lots more info about toxicity.