Hazardous chemicals found in gardening hoses; Can leach phthalates and BPA into water

Retailers called on to stop selling products

High levels of hazardous chemicals, many of which have been banned in children’s products, were found in garden hoses in the second year of tests conducted by researchers at the Ecology Center. Phthalates and the toxic chemical BPA were all found in the water of a new hose after sitting outside in the sun for just a few days.

The Ecology Center study is a follow-up to a 2012 study that tested 90 garden water hoses. This year, 21 garden hoses were tested for 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.

Results were released May 7 at www.HealthyStuff.org.

“Drinking water from a hose is one of the pleasures of summer. You shouldn’t need to worry that the water contains chemicals of concern from your garden hose,” according to Jeff Gearhart, research director at the Ecology Center.

“While the good news is that consumer pressure has resulted in lower levels of lead in hoses this year, we are still finding unnecessary toxic hazards in garden hoses," he said. "And it’s encouraging that healthier choices are out there. Polyurethane or natural rubber water hoses are a great improvement over PVC and are better choices.”

Highlights of the findings:

  • 21 new garden hoses were purchased from Lowes, Home Depot, Walmart, Target and Kmart. One-third (8 of 21) of the garden hoses tested contained high levels of one or more chemicals of concern. These hoses are widely available and top selling brands.
  • Of the 21 garden hoses tested, 67 percent (14 of 21) were polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and 4.5% contained brominated flame retardants.
  • 5 hoses were tested for phthalate content. Total phthalate content in those hoses ranged from 11 percent to 18 percent by weight. Phthalates are not chemically bound to the material and can be released to the air and water.
  • 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.
  • Hazardous metals were also found in hoses; including organic tin stabilizers (29 percent); and antimony (52 percent)
  • Overall the level of lead in garden hoses declined between 2012 and 2013. The percentage of hoses with greater then 100 ppm lead declined from 50 percent in 2012 to 14 percent in 2013.

What was found in the water?

  • Water was sampled from one hose after it was left in the sun for two days
  • BPA levels of 0.34 - 0.91 ppm were found in the hose water. This level is three times to nine times higher than the 0.100 ppm safe drinking water level used by NSF to verify that consumers are not being exposed to levels of a chemical that exceed regulated levels.
  • The phthalate DEHP was found at 0.017 - 0.011 ppm in the hose water. This level is 2-times higher than federal drinking water standards. EPA and FDA regulate DEHP in water from the tap at 0.006 mg/l (ppm).

Phthalates are a group of industrial chemicals that add flexibility and resilience to many consumer products. Consumer products containing phthalates can result in human exposure through direct contact and use, indirectly through leaching into other products, or general environmental contamination. Humans are exposed through ingestion, inhalation, and dermal exposure during their whole lifetime.

BPA is used as an antioxidant in polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastics, as an inhibitor of end polymerization in PVC, and as co-stabilizers for certain PVC plasticizers. This is not the first time BPA has been found to leach from PVC plastic products. A study by scientists in Japan found BPA leaches from PVC pipes into water, and they concluded “PVC hose might be a significant source of environmental BPA”. Other studies have documented BPA in PVC gloves.

What can you do?

  • Read the labels: 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.”
  • Let it run: Always let your hose run for a few seconds before using, since the water that’s been sitting in the hose will have the highest levels of chemicals.
  • Avoid the sun: Store your hose in the shade. The heat from the sun can increase the leaching of chemicals from the PVC into the water.
  • Don’t drink water from a hose: Unless you know for sure that your hose is drinking water safe, don’t drink from it. Even low levels of lead may cause health problems. Don’t give it to your pets either.
  • Buy a PVC-free hose: Polyurethane or natural rubber hoses are better choices. Visit www.HealthyStuff.org for sample products.

“No parent should have to worry whether their garden hose is leaching hormone disrupting chemicals into the water their children or pets drink from,” said Mike Schade, Markets Campaign Coordinator with the Center for Health, Environment & Justice. “We now know vinyl garden hoses may leach toxic phthalates and BPA into water. It’s time for retailers like Home Depot and Wal-Mart to safeguard our children’s health and phase out the use of these poison plastic vinyl hoses.”

For more details on what the Ecology Center researchers found, and what you can do to avoid toxic chemicals this gardening season, visit www.HealthyStuff.org.

Since 2007 researchers at the Ecology Center have performed over 22,000 tests for toxic chemicals on over 7,500 consumer products, including pet products, vehicles, women's handbags, jewelry, back-to-school products, children's toys, building products and children's car seats. All of this information can be found at www.HealthyStuff.org.

For more information, contact: Jeff Gearhart, 734-369-9276(o); 734-945-7738(mobile); jeffg@ecocenter.org

Published on May 7, 2013