Toxic Gardening Tools Are a Growing Problem | Seventh Generation
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Toxic Gardening Tools Are a Growing Problem

Author: the Inkslinger

For most of us, the household garden is an epicenter of our attempt to live a greener life and one of the few places where the only invited guest is nature itself. The things we grow there are the purest and safest possible. The trouble is, the things we use to grow them often are not.

That's the word from Healthy Stuff, an environmental consumer advocacy organization that's been making a name for itself with some eye-opening exposés on the chemical hazards hidden in products we normally don't think twice about. Like gardening implements, a product category I'll admit I'm a little surprised to be writing about.

But write I must because it turns out some of the most innocent-looking items in our backyard sheds are guilty of containing a cornucopia of chemical toxins. Healthy Stuff examined 179 garden hoses, gloves, kneeling pads, and tools, and found that over 70% of those tested had chemical levels of "high concern." There were phthalates, flame retardants, and bisphenol-a (BPA) in hoses; heavy metals in garden tools; chlorine in gloves, and lead all over the place—some 30% of the products contained levels above 100 ppm, the federal threshold for children's products, and over half contained PVC, a plastic that frequently leaches its own set of pollutants.

Leaching, in fact, appears to be a key issue. Tests on hoses, for example, showed that that the lead, phthalates, and BPA they were made from easily migrated into the water that flowed through them. (That's not surprising because hoses are completely unregulated; there aren't any rules about what they can or can't be made from.)

None of these hazards are anything we want in our theoretically organic homegrown garden salads. There's clearly an issue sprouting here. The real question is what do we do about? Here are some ways to garden without a harvest of harm:

  • Let your hose run for a few seconds or minutes (depending on length) to flush any standing water inside. This "old" water is likely to have absorbed the greatest amounts of any toxins that are present in hose materials.
  • Store your hose where it's protected from the sun, whose heat greatly accelerates the leaching process.
  • Don't drink from your hose.
  • When it's time for a new hose, choose one labeled "lead-free" or "drinking water safe."
  • Look for California labeling on any products you're considering. Thanks to that state's Proposition 65, products that contain any of about 800 different unhealthy chemicals must state that they contain "a chemical known to the State of California to cause cancer and birth defects and other reproductive harm." Not all hazardous products sold outside California will bear this warning, but many will. Run if you see it!
  • Choose gloves made from natural materials like hide, leather, or cotton. Avoid any that have rubber or plastic components of any kind.
  • Use garden tools made of stainless steel, a metal alloy which typically does not contain lead. Unpainted wooden tools are another option.

Check out Healthy for more information and to see which specific products did and did not pass the toxicological test. Remember: not all gardening implements are created equally. There are plenty of safe options out there. It's just a matter of putting them to work to ensure health for our crops and the people who eat them.


photo: Pink Sherbert Photography


Nodrog picture
As Malosamol points out, even natural products, such as leathers and cotton garments, can be produced with or treated with toxic chemicals - the difference between these materials and man-made synthetics, plastics, etc is that natural products like leather and cotton CAN be made in a totally eco-friendly manner; plastics CANNOT. Even plastics made using corn, for instance, must be namufactured using a synthetic chemical-intensive process! (Oh, for those who don't understand how leather can be eco-friendly, remember that predation is an important part of all healthy eco-systems on this planet. I did not make it so, but it is.)
Kate Kenner picture
Kate Kenner
Thank you for these tips. I do remember hearing of at least some of these issues but it is good to read them again as I think I forgot about them. It's sad that doing such a natural and lovely activity as growing flowers and vegetables can be so toxic.
malosamol picture
The number of toxic chemicals used in the leather tanning/finishing process, and the amount of pesticides sprayed on cotton, will make me think twice about these "natural materials" as well.
tuli picture
Hi Folks, Great article and all the more reason to buy a Made in the USA tools from Yep, that's right- they are made from steel, recycled steel, and american hardwood. One reason we do our tools as that many people who are avid gardeners and care about eating fresh, organic food, want a tool option that is inline with the things that they care about and it is hard to find one that is not imported. So look no further our Iron and Wood Garden Tools can help you! Happy Gardening everyone!
gkepchar picture
The soil in my area has measurable but not toxic levels of naturally occurring lead and arsenic. Any amount of lead added by the metal of a garden tool is likely to be very low in comparison. Paint chips may be another matter. What about irrigation pipe or soaker hose? What do these leach? Even more important, do plants even absorb these chemicals? I'm a vegetarian. I don't do leather gloves and cotton ones don't keep out the thorns. I swear by the Atlas Nitrile gloves. And the Skrub'a vegetable washing gloves are pure genius. Sometimes we make compromises.
tommyhogan picture
One person's common SENSE is not another's, it is not a given, it depends on their values. "Common sense" for many people like myself is paying more for less toxic hoses because our health, sustainability and what we support with our dollars is WAY more important than keeping a greater amount of money for ourselves (that is keeping it in the short term to pay more of it out for health care costs, medication, toxic clean up funding, being stiffed by corporations, etc.), and that is a value judgement. In addition, shopping at massive stores like Lowe's perpetuates their business practices, in Lowe's case one practice is the expansion of Monsanto Scotts' products and all that financing entails with GMOs, food patents and the proliferation of products that are poisoning all of us and our environment. Also buying healthier products encourages the production of more of them and hopefully the lessening production of the more toxic (and which may in the long run bring the more costly prices down). Of course it goes without saying (though maybe not for some people) that buying from massive retailers also keeps people in the have/have not categories (ie what some refer to as the 99%) when one could be supporting self reliability by buying everything they possibly can from small retailers and individuals to help support a better economic structure and so in the long run, bettering ourselves and situation. For the record I'm a low income person and if I have to give my money to big retailers because I can't afford otherwise I almost always go without. That's my being REALISTIC and everyone has their version, because there is no one reality for all. The choices we make depend on what we value, believe and hopefully want to support.
FreeRangeRadical picture
I recently bought a couple of good quality hoses at Lowe's - 5/8"x100' - for $40 each. And after reading this article, I searched for a drinking-water-safe hose and found one on Amazon for $55...for a 50' hose. At some point, you have to ask, is it worth the extra $140 just for hoses? My answer is an emphatic NO! At some point, you have to weigh price against common sense. I already bleed off the water in the hose before watering anything edible or before filling our animals watering bowls...or before I take a drink on a hot day. I'm all for everything that makes SENSE to do, and I try to do all I can, but there's a point where you have to be realistic and paying $110 for 100' of garden hose definitely fails to meet that standard.
aviz picture
I recently bought a garden hose that spews sudsy water every time I use it after overnight or non usage period. Where can I find out what cases it and whether or not it is toxic??
huggermom picture
Thanks again for the heads up on tools! I hope to have the healthiest garden ever for my family! Rc