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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 Stuff.org 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.