Innovators Series: Making Healthier, Safer Garden Hoses a Reality

"We decided to focus on function and happy customers, not cost." -- Jeff Thomas (Co-Founder of family-run Water Right Inc.)


Jeff and Katrina Thomas are making garden hoses you can drink out of--without consuming a potentially toxic suite of chemicals. The couple started Water Right in 2008 with the goal of developing a hose superior to any others on the market. Jeff, who recently spoke with HealthyStuff.org, says the company was formed after years of brainstorming and prototype testing to create a "dream hose."


Having been employed in the plastics industry, Jeff was aware of the safety issues that plagued traditional garden hoses and became convinced that a much better product could be made. He and Katrina set out to make the garden hose that nobody else was making, a hose that was "good for people," as he says: a safe, long-lasting, American-made product.


Today, in addition to being extremely durable and easy to handle, Water Right's hoses are free of toxic lead, bisphenol A (BPA) and phthalates.


HealthyStuff.org tested over 100 hoses in 2012 and 2013 and found that many are made with polyvinyl chloride (PVC), which contains a range of hazardous additives. Many of the hoses contained lead, brominated flame retardants and BPA. Some hoses were tested specifically for phthalate plasticizers and were found to contain at least one of the phthalate varieties banned in children's products in the United States.


Perhaps most alarmingly, water held in tested hoses also showed levels of phthalates and BPA that exceed drinking water standards, demonstrating that these additives migrate from the hose into the water it contains. Garden hoses can thus expose us (and our pets) to harmful chemicals when we water vegetable gardens or play in a sprinkler.



 


When the Ecology Center released its garden-hose study results in 2013, Water Right hoses were among those that tested positive for lead. In Water Right’s case, lead was in the metal fitting. Jeff Thomas took these results to heart and immediately started drafting ideas to redesign the fitting and make his product lead-free. Jeff was in contact with the Ecology Center throughout the process and made sure that each potential solution he employed was tested for lead and other toxic metals.


The story of the Water Right hose shows how companies can use consumer concerns and chemical test results to better their product. The flexible plastic used to manufacture a Water Right hose is food contact-grade polyurethane that provides long-term durability greater then PVC and is drinking water safe. This means the hoses meet regulatory standards for vessels we can drink from.


Polyurethane has a much smaller chemical footprint compared to PVC. Chemical footprints of plastics are defined by the number and percent weight of chemicals of high concern (CoHC) used in a homogenous product. PVC hoses may contain several CoHC's, including phthalates and BPA. PVC in hoses can contain up to 18% phthalate plasticizers (the common ones we found include DEHP and DINP), 0.1% lead and 0.5% BPA (both of which are classified as CoHC) by weight, while polyurethane is estimated to have 0% of CoHC. A typical 100 foot, heavy duty garden hose can weigh 12 pounds or more. This hose will contain over 2 pounds of chemicals of high concern which can be avoided by selecting an alternative material like polyurethane.


The metal fittings and connectors on the hose are selected to have the lowest possible lead content available -- over 99.9% lead-free as verified by HealthyStuff.org and another independent lab -- and are double-plated with nickel and chrome for extra assurance that they will not leach any lead.


Finally, the long life of a Water Right hose means it will not deteriorate and end up in the trash in a few years like a traditional garden hose.


The reception of Water Right hoses has been resoundingly positive. Endorsements have rolled in from the gardening world; retailers are taking notice and are seeking out Water Right for its reputation as the safest and best garden hose on the market. According to Jeff, this reputation has grown by a mostly organic process, driven by word of mouth. A consumer base increasingly informed and concerned about toxic exposures has generated great momentum for the company.


Katrina and Jeff, however, are not content to rest on their success in designing and marketing their hoses. They have ambitious plans for Water Right, as they plan on targeting other products related to water that can be made not only better performing but also safer for humans and our shared environment.


More resources on Sustainable Plastics:


BizNGO Plastic Scorecard

Published on January 6, 2015