Gardening: Is your garden hose water safe?

You’ve been picking peas, harvesting herbs and watering watermelons all day.

Really? It took you all day to do three simple tasks?

It probably was the 100-degree heat — slows me down too.

Clarence Schmidt

Anyway, you’re dehydrated and need a drink of water. The house is 219 steps away. The garden hose is in your hands. Easy decision?

It could depend on the quality of your hose.

Gardeners want to grow crops as close to toxic-free as possible. Organic seeds, healthy soil, organic fertilizers and avoiding harmful herbicides and pesticides are all essential. However, one important item deserves more attention. Garden hoses.

Better known as agricultural streaming devices (actually, nobody ever called them that), garden hoses were not designed to supply drinking quality water.

In 2011, 2012 and 2013, Ann Arbor, Michigan-based Ecology Center ( tested over 200 garden hoses for water leaching and hazardous metals. “Municipal drinking water held in certain hoses for 48 hours was found to contain phthalates, BPA and lead, none of which were detected in water directly sampled from the tap.”

In June 2016, the center tested 32 garden hoses and their fittings for antimony, bisphenol A (BPA), bromine, cadmium, lead, organotin, phthalates, PVC plastic and tin.

If I had paid better attention in my chemistry class, I could tell you what those words mean. But there was this cute, red-haired girl …

OK, moving on …

For hoses tested for leaching, “municipal drinking water was held in the hoses for 48 hours, then the water was sent to a certified lab. A ‘faucet blank’ sample containing fresh tap water was also collected and tested for comparison.”

According to the center, “PVC hoses often had elevated antimony, bromine, lead, and phthalates. Non-PVC hoses did not have these contaminants.

“The hoses labeled ‘drinking water safe’ were free of significant lead, bromine, antimony and tin. However, 30 percent of them contained potentially hazardous phthalates.”

These chemicals and metals have been linked to birth defects, cancer, diabetes, hormone disruption and infertility, among others. Possibly even cyberchondria (worrying about all the worst possibilities after reading the internet).

Repeated exposure of even low levels may cause health problems, especially to children and pregnant and nursing women.

But it’s not just about safe drinking water for your kids, livestock and pets. What about your vegetables?

According to a study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Kansas State University, and funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, plants absorb very little lead in their stems and leaves. Also, “high levels of phthalates are occasionally found in organically grown vegetables, but phthalates are so common in our environment that it’s hard to prove they are due to the use of a garden hose.”

Always recite the alphabet while washing your vegetables. And hands.

Surprising to me was that half of the PVC hoses tested contained electronic waste (e-waste) vinyl contaminated with toxic chemicals. I’m delighted my old laptop has an afterlife and a future in cloud computing.

Be aware of hoses with the ubiquitous California Prop. 65 warning: “This product contains a chemical known to the State of California to cause cancer and birth defects and other reproductive harm.”

If possible, keep your hoses in a shaded area, since heat from the sun increases leaching of toxins into water. If you do store it in the sun, let the water run until it cools off in summer time so it won’t burn the plants.

Also, the water that has been sitting in the hose has the highest level of chemicals. Most of this contamination is removed once the water has run through the hose.

Exposure to lead is more common than many people realize. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, lead can be found in some cosmetics, personal care products, imported toys, pottery, ceramics, china, crystal and car batteries. And soil.

It appears that plants don’t absorb lead, unless there is a high concentration of it in the soil. Adding compost will help dilute lead in the soil. Compost fixes everything. All garden paths lead to compost.

In the Journal of Environmental Quality, a University of Washington study “looked at potential risks associated with growing vegetables has ‘shown that lead is harmful by eating the dirt, not from eating the lettuce grown in the dirt.’”

From now on, my new mantra is “more lettuce, less dirt.”

You can buy a hose that’s made from FDA-approved materials. They are labeled “drink-safe,” “safe for potable water,” “BPA-free” or “phthalate-free.” I like the 2020 models that are also chew-proof, kink-resistant and have headphones. They come in a wide variety of colors, except neon banana.

I’d gladly walk the 219 steps knowing full well that it would be for a drink a little stronger than water.

Schmidt is a Poway resident with over 40 years of gardening experience.

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