Lead, cadmium, phthalates, and other nasty chemicals may be lurking in your garden. But they might not have arrived there through fertilizers, pesticides, and pollution. Your own gardening tools could be the culprit.
A recent study, conducted by the Ecology Center based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, checked 179 common garden gadgets (newly purchased garden gloves, hoses, kneeling pads, hand tools, etc.) for chemical contamination. And what they found isn’t good news. More than 70 percent of the products tested contained contaminants (mostly lead and plasticizers). And the substances often came in concentrations far exceeding the recommended allowable exposures.
The researchers screened the items -- ones you’d find at Sears, Home Depot, or your own local garden center -- for lead, cadmium, bromine (which comes from flame retardants), and plasticizers, like phthalates and the infamous bisphenol A. (Plasticizers, if you need a refresher, are additives that make plastic soft and flexible. They can dissipate out of materials over time, which is why old plastic, like an aging electrical cord, can become brittle and crumbly.) Regular contact with these substances can come with health consequences that range from neurological and liver problems (lead) to endocrine disruption (phthalates and BPA).
Hoses are of particular concern, says the Ecology Center's Jeff Gearhart in the Los Angeles Times. Most of us know that we’re not supposed to drink water from garden hoses -- even if we don’t know why. Stagnant hose water collects higher concentrations of whatever chemicals are hiding within the hose. And if your hose is leaching high levels of unwanted substances, you are spraying them into your soil and onto your plants, too. This means you could still end up ingesting them, even if you don’t take those ill-advised sips from the nozzle.
Past research has warned of lead dangers within garden hoses as well, but the study's BPA findings are new. According to their report, “BPA levels of 2.3 part per million (ppm) were found in the hose water. This level is 20 times higher than the 0.100 ppm safe drinking water level used by NSF [National Science Foundation].” That gave me pause, as did the tidbit that 20 percent of garden gloves contained lead at an amount greater than 100 parts per million, which is the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s allowable level for children’s products. I was also caught off guard by the high levels of banned phthalate plasticizers in gardening gloves.
So, should gardeners be worried? Concern is probably prudent. The study includes specific suggestions (aka product recommendations) for avoiding contaminated tools in the first place. So if you are looking to buy new, safe garden supplies (hint: Mother's Day is almost here!), download their printable guide.
Image by gfpeck via Flickr