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BPA In Your Garden? Maybe, If You Use These Gardening Products

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Written By Kirsten Hudson

You work hard to keep harmful pesticides and chemicals out of your organic garden. From preparing your garden with organic soil to choosing heirloom seeds to digging in organic fertilizer, your green thumb takes on more than one meaning: You're good at growing plants AND you're an eco-conscious gardener, too!

Wouldn't it just irk you more than a bunch of weeds, then, to find out that the gardening products you use are dirtying up your organic garden with BPA, phthalates and lead? Unfortunately, a new study by the Ann Arbor, Mich.-based Ecology Center has shown just that.

Ecology Center researchers conducted a large study of toxic chemicals in gardening products. The study tested 179 common gardening products, including garden hoses, garden gloves, kneeling pads and garden tools. Two-thirds of these products had chemical levels of "high concern," according to a press release. Results of the study were released at www.HealthyStuff.org.

Researchers tested the gardening products for lead, cadmium, bromine (associated with brominated flame retardants), chlorine (indicating the presence of polyvinyl chloride, or PVC), phthalates and bisphenol A (BPA). Such chemicals have been linked to birth defects, impaired learning, liver toxicity, premature births and early puberty in laboratory animals, among other serious health problems, according to the release.

"Even if you are an organic gardener, doing everything you can to avoid pesticides and fertilizers, you still may be introducing hazardous substances into your soil by using these products," Jeff Gearhart, Research Director at the Ecology Center, said in the release.

To see a list of the brands of garden products tested, visit HealthyStuff.org.

Highlights of the Findings

  • HealthyStuff.org screened 179 common garden products, including garden hoses (90); garden gloves (53); kneeling pads (13) and garden tools (23). Two-thirds (70.4 percent) of these products had chemical levels of "high concern."
  • High amounts of lead, 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.
  • 30 percent of all products contained more than 100 ppm lead in one or more of its components. 100 ppm is the Consumer Product Safety Commission Standard (CPSC) for lead in children's products.
  • All of the garden hoses sampled for phthalates contained four phthalate plasticizers, which are currently banned in children's products.
  • Two water hoses contained the flame retardant 2,3,4,5-tetrabromo-bis (2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (TBPH).

What Was Found in the Water

  • Water sampled from one hose contained 0.280 mg/l (ppm) lead. This is 18 times higher than the federal drinking water standard of 0.015 mg/l.
  • BPA levels of 2.3 ppm was found in the hose water. This level is 20 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 0.025 ppm in the hose water. This level is four times higher than federal drinking water standards. EPA and FDA regulate DEHP in water at 0.006 mg/l (ppm).

What You Can Do

HealthyStuff.org suggests the following good practices for limiting your exposure to harmful chemicals in gardening products.

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, as 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.

Buy a PVC-free hose: Choose polyurethane or natural rubber hoses.

"Gardening products, including water hoses, are completely unregulated and often fail to meet drinking water standards that apply to other products," Gearhart said in the release. "The good news is that healthier choices are out there. Polyurethane or natural rubber water hoses, and non-PVC tools and work gloves, are all better choices."

You can find a list of PVC-free watering hoses at HealthyStuff.org.

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