Think Before You Drink
Over the years, I have often reminded readers that most garden hoses are not really safe for certain uses. This comes up in my own garden a lot these days, especially when my 2-year-old grandson wants to drink from the garden hose. Is that a safe practice? In a word, probably not. (OK, two words.) In fact, ordinary garden hoses are not safe for anyone to drink from. I had never really thought much about that issue until I was paid to trial a bunch of hoses for various qualities.
At the time, I was very clear that my ideal garden hose won’t kink easily, since I rend to drag them around corners, behind big rocks, and under bushes. I also like hoses that can take being driven over a few times without bursting, and those that wind up readily even in cool weather. However, I never gave much thought to the idea that hose water might not be safe until I actually read the warnings that come printed (in very small print) on the backs of most hose packaging.
Look Before You Sip
During that trial, I preferred both the Flexogen and Colorite Water Works hoses. Over time, however, the Flexogen hoses have gotten softer and more prone to kink. After a dozen years of use (and mild abuse), the Colorite Water Works hoses are still in good shape and are still less apt to kink. They remain more supple than most hoses in cold weather as well. So far, so good, right? But wait, there’s more to think about! Colorite Water Works hoses (sold as drinking water safe) are among a mere handful that are lined with medical grade plastic. That prevents lead and other harmful substances in the hose itself from reaching the water.
Next time you shop for hoses, check the label, front and back. Legally, any hose that is not of drinking water quality must carry a disclaimer on the label, such as: “This hose is NOT intended for drinking water use. WARNING: This product contains a chemical known to the State of California to cause cancer. WARNING: This product contains a chemical known to the State of California to cause birth defects or other reproductive harm.”
Get The Lead Out
If this label is present, or if there is no disclaimer and no statement about drinking safety, it means that it is not a good idea to drink–or let your kids drink–from that particular hose. When I first learned that, it made me determined to buy only drinking water safe hoses from then on. I wouldn’t even let my kids play in a splash pool unless the hose I used wasn’t adding a chemical bath to the bubbles.
So what’s in those funky hoses? Several consumer agencies wanted to know as well, and you can find recent results reports online. Most garden hoses contain phthalates, substances that make plastics and vinyl softer and more malleable. Phthalates are found in thousands of plastic-based objects and tools, but they are illegal to use in toys or in any products children will use. Some garden hoses also include lead in amounts exceeding federal Safe Drinking Water standards.
Why Is It There?
As it happens, lead is a common stabilizer in the kind of plastic (polyvinyl chloride) used to make many types of hose. The lead can leach from these hoses, especially when they are left full of water, but closed with a shut-off valve. A quick slurp on a hot day can deliver an unsafe amount of lead to an unsuspecting child, gardener, or dog. Even small amounts of lead can lead to brain damage, significant anemia, and other health problems, especially in children.
Since lead damage is irreversible, a safe hose starts to seem like a bargain. Several studies found that many ordinary hoses leach significant amounts of lead into the water passing through them. Even some safe hoses contained tiny amounts of lead in water left standing in the hose for a day or so. However, all drinking quality hoses tested lead-free after running fresh water through them for a full minute. For me, the bottom line is this: Don’t let your kids drink from any hose you don’t know to be safe. Always flush any hose, even a safe one, with running water for several minutes before sipping or filling the splash pool, or the pet’s bowl.
Finding Better Hoses
Companies that make or carry drinking water safe hoses include Teknor Apex Boat and Camper, Swan Marine & Camper, and other boating and camping supply sources. A lot of the drinking water hoses used in recreational vehicles and on boats are very light weight, far too flimsy for long-tern garden use. A few, however, are sturdier, including the Camco heavy duty hose (model #22853), which costs around $30.00 for a 50 footer, MegaDeal’s Super Heavy Duty Drinking Hose ($36.00 for 75 feet), and the Gaterhyde Drinking Water Safe hose ($57.00 for 75 feet), all available online.
Gardener’s Supply Company carries a number of safe hoses (www.gardeners.com), and the Craftsman All Rubber Garden Hose is widely available at hardware stores, running about $35 for the most useful 50 foot length. However, it is important to understand that not all hoses from any company is safe to drink from: Only hoses specifically labeled as drinking quality or drinking safe are safe to drink from.