A hose is a hose is a hose. Right? Well, no.
Garden hoses and soaker hoses sure make watering plants one heck of a lot easier than back in the days of carrying buckets, back and forth and back again. At 8 pounds a gallon, that water gets pretty heavy. Our handy green garden hose makes light work of a regular garden task, but what’s in that hose and can it leach out into our soil, where it can be absorbed by our plants? The answer is uncertain.
Food grade hoses vs. garden hoses
After living in an RV for 5 years, I understood all too well the importance of my white hose with its blue stripe. This particular hose was used to bring potable water into my home. (Potable means safe to drink.) What made that hose different from your standard green garden hose? Being sold as a food grade hose means it is covered by the Safe Drinking Water Act. This bit of regulatory protection limits the materials that can break free from the hose and enter the water moving through it. Garden hoses are not (but I think they should be). Because garden hoses are not covered, they can contain significantly higher levels of lead and other toxic chemicals.
Garden hose test results
Public opinion and concern have pressured regulators to look into the issue of toxic garden hoses, but it’s slow process. Many garden hoses contain significant levels of lead, BPA, and phthalates. The bass fittings on the ends of garden hoses have been found to contain dangerous levels of lead about 1/3 of the time. BPAs are used to make hard, clear plastic. The Food and Drug Administration says BPAs are safe, but has banned their use in infant bottles and sippy cups. Huh.
Garden hose materials
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) actively encourages manufacturers to use “old tires and recycled plastics” to make garden hoses. This is great for reducing the amount of trash in landfills but it begs the question of what, exactly, is in those materials and how tightly are they bound to the hose?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), garden hoses contain chemicals called phthalates. Phthalates, or plasticizers, are used to make plastic strong and flexible and they are found in all standard garden hoses. Drinking water from a hose made with phthalates puts these chemicals in your body. Watering plants with the same hose puts those chemicals in your soil. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) classify phthalates as "reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.” Another huh.
If all that weren’t enough, the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) warns that garden hoses provide the perfect growth medium for Legionnaires’s disease! Spraying water into the air turns the Legionella bacteria into an inhalable aerosol.
Food grade garden hoses
In the greater scheme of things, the amount of lead and other chemicals that end up in your soil, plants, and food from a garden hose are probably negligible. There is debate about whether BPA molecules, which tend to be large, can even be absorbed by plants. I certainly don’t know. What I do know is that I want to keep carcinogens, lead, and other toxins as far away from me and my garden as possible. These tips can reduce health risks:
If you are concerned about the possibility of chemicals leaching out of your garden hose, you can always do what I did and switch to higher quality products. Companies, such as Water Right, eartheasy, and others, offer garden hoses made to food grade standards. In my opinion, it’s worth it.
Hose trivia: The Irrigation Museum tells us that the first residential hose nozzle was patented in 1877. Who knew there was an Irrigation Museum???
You can grow a surprising amount of food in your own yard. Ask me how!