How poisonous is your garden hose? Best to find out

Jeff Lowenfels

I hate to be a complainer, and I know that there are readers out there who simply don't care that we are slowly poisoning the human race. Still, I am pretty sure we can all agree gardeners should not be exposing themselves to known toxins. Some may still apply them, but I am sure we all agree human exposure is not a good idea.

There are some things, however, that are just plain clear. Take water from a hose, for example. I can remember that while growing up drinking from the garden hose was one of the great delights of summer, provided one of your brothers wasn't holding it for you. Turns out all that drinking may have something to do with my now strange behavior. Based on the results of a study I read last month, the new rule for my family and progeny is: "Never drink from a garden hose."

Seems that some testing was done on garden hoses. All of the tested brands had something called "phthalates" in them, plasticizers banned in children's products. Uh-oh. Some of the hoses even had, if I can get this right: 2,3,4,5-tetrabromo-bis(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate, otherwise (and for good reason) known as TBPH. For those who don't read labels, that is a flame retardant.

I didn't know hoses burned up, did you? Better tell the Anchorage Fire Department. I also didn't know that water running through many hoses picks up lead. In the test, one hose brand had 16 times more than federal drinking water standards permit. And in case you are thinking of filling your BPA-free drinking water bottle with water from a hose before you go out on that jog or bike ride, consider that amounts up to 20 times the amount used to judge things safe from BPA was found in some hose water.

Whew, the list goes on, but I can't spell all the chemicals and you should be getting the message, just as I did. Many hoses are simply not safe to use for gardening. Some contain PVC which can contain all sorts of horrible additives that are toxic. And, ohmygosh, in addition to some having lead in the plastic, the brass couplings others use can release lead, too. (Does this mean I have been wrong all these years in buying the brass on/off connectors and fancy faucets instead of the plastic ones?)

All I can suggest is that those of us who thought we were being good, organic gardeners, probably have been using chemicals we had no idea existed, nonetheless existed in the water as a direct result of running through our garden hoses. What has this world come to when those with infants, at least, should have garden soils tested for lead? From watering, no less.

In truth, we should all buy hoses labeled safe for drinking water and lead-free even if there doesn't seem to be a certifying entity out there to make sure we are not being (continued to be) poisoned. In addition to no drinking from them, the rules include no PVC hoses. Also, keep hoses out of the sun to minimize leaching. Run the water so that water that had been sitting in the hose is not used. Good thing we don't have a water shortage up here.

There are hoses labeled "drinking water safe," and you can surely use hoses from marine and RV distributors designed for drinking water systems. Me? Next time I am thirsty while working out on the back 40, I think I will just skip the hose and go into the house to get water from a faucet. I am concerned, of course, about what is going into my tomatoes too.

If you want to read the rest of the information including the testing perameters used, suggested hoses and other products to buy, then go to It is amazing that manufacturers, and retailers for that matter, get away with selling this stuff.

By the way, they tested a few garden gloves and two of them had lead in them as well. Really? Working in lead gloves? We gardeners, at least, have to start speaking up and demanding that products put up for sale for use in our yards do not contain known toxins. Gardens are not dumping grounds. Gardeners are not stupid.

Jeff Lowenfels is a member of the Garden Writers Hall of Fame. You can reach him at and hear him (and call in) on the Garden Party from 10 a.m.-noon on Saturdays on KBYR, 700 AM.

Garden calendar

Radish: Time for a new row.

Kohlrabii: when they are hardball size is the time to harvest.

Potatoes: Hll yours so only 3 or so inches appear above whatever you hill with.

Willow Garden Tour and Les Brake’s Coyote Garden: 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday July 28. Call 907-495-2080 for more information. Bring a lunch, see five gardens tickets for door prize. Les is opening his garden the following day as well. Save the dates.