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Is there BPA and lead in the water from a PVC garden hose?

Several years ago I was obliged to buy a 40 metre 18mm garden hose (Australian made). That summer, as I filled a watering can, I was taken aback by the large pile of white foam that spilled out of the top and spout of the watering can when it was barely half-filled. It was as though I’d tipped a good amount of dishwashing detergent in it. There was a smell too - chemical, but not acrid. I let the first lot of water in the hose run out (though it pained me to waster so much) and tried again. Less foam, but still plenty to do one’s dishes in.

I thought I’d do a bit of research but had no luck with finding much in the way of scholarly articles. However less, largely unreferenced, sites made for alarming reading. This from one:

Lead, BPA, and phthalates are used in garden hoses mainly to stabilize the plastics. The most common plastic is polyvinyl chloride, which may release toxic vinyl chloride. Antimony and bromine are components of flame retardant chemicals.

and further:

A study conducted by the Ecology Center in Ann Arbor, M.I. (healthystuff.org), found lead levels exceeded the safety limits set by the Safe Water Drinking Act in 100% of the garden hoses they tested. A third of the hoses contained organotin, which disrupts the endocrine system. Half the hoses contained antimony, which is linked to liver, kidney, and other organ damage. All of the randomly selected hoses contained extremely high levels of phthalates, which can lower intelligence, damage the endocrine system, and cause behavioral changes.

Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. “Is It Safe to Drink Water From a Hose?” ThoughtCo, Sep. 3, 2019, thoughtco.com/is-it-safe-to-drink-hose-water-609429.

Then I realised that the articles I was reading were mostly based on the same 2016 Ecology Center study in the USA. Here’s part of the executive summary:

  • Lead in the metal parts: 15% of metal fittings (4 of 27) contained elevated lead. This represents an improvement . Five years ago, 40% of metal fittings tested (44 of 110) contained lead. Most of these had high lead levels in the range of 1 to 6% by weight.
  • Recycled electronic waste vinyl appears to have been used in a number of PVC hoses, resulting in high levels of bromine (indicating brominated flame retardants), lead, antimony, and tin (indicating organotin stabilizers).
  • BPA and lead were found to leach into water held in certain hoses. Phthalates were not detected in the hose water, although similar leaching tests in recent years did find phthalates leaching into the water.
  • The ten hoses labeled “Drinking water safe” were free of significant lead, bromine, antimony, and tin. However, three (30%) of them contained potentially hazardous phthalates.

https://www.ecocenter.org/healthy-stuff/pages/executive-summary-garden-hose-study-2016

So, apart from telling anyone who’d listen, I decided to release the first 40 metres of water according to a rough calculation, and to fill the birdbaths using a watering can filled from the tap. My plants didn’t die, but it still bothered me. Surely, though, if it was a genuine health concern we’d know about it?

This year I thought to try my hand at growing some veggies. I thought about the hose water. I thought about one of the main findings in that ecocenter study:

BPA and lead were found to leach into water held in certain hoses.

Are people watering their food plants with these ‘certain hoses’? Organic farmers? ‘Kids in schools’?

Garden hoses and the water coming out of them are benign objects everywhere you look. TV, backyards with slippery slides and inflatable swimming pools.

This is just one study. Are there more, maybe you know of one? Because I would like to know and, I believe the world should know - is there BPA and lead in the water from a PVC garden hose?

Added 10th Oct (I attempted to add this beneath my original message but it went under someone’s reply - it’s not directed at any response in particular)
While opinion has its place (I don’t have enough evidence, as yet, to form one - just enough to have concerns) what I am really looking for is independent, rigorous research that leads to a definitive answer. If it should emerge that there is BPA and lead in the water from a PVC garden hose, other questions will follow - one being the possible take-up of these toxins by food plants watered with it. If there is no such research then I believe it is warranted due to public health considerations.

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A quick perusal of Bunnings offers is that their garden hoses are advertised and stated as being for garden use. They are all clearly marked as made of PVC.

There is a different class of hose marketed for potable water, also sold at Bunnings and elsewhere.

How much bad chemical leeches from a garden hose is an interesting question, and whether and how it might be absorbed into the vegie patch and at what concentration.

Therein lies a problem as you noted. One study of an alarmist nature, replicated across the internet by like-minded sites. It would be good to have an independent verification or refutation, as the results might be.

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A few thoughts.

  • “found lead levels exceeded the safety limits set by the Safe Water Drinking Act” OK garden hoses do not pass the test for drinking water, as they are not designed for drinking water this is not amazing. Under what circumstances drinking from a hose might or might not be dangerous is not known.
  • Finding a list of potentially toxic substances in hoses does not demonstrate they are dangerous. Our environment has a huge number of substances in it, you cannot live in this world and avoid such things. The question is how much are you exposed to. The dose makes the poison. Showing there is lead, bromine and antimony in hose water is not enough unless you show a dangerous dose can be ingested.
  • " I filled a watering can, I was taken aback by the large pile of white foam that spilled out of the top and spout of the watering can" This may or may not be a health problem. We have no idea what could be in hose that makes foam.

I am not saying that hose water is safe I am saying that so far it hasn’t been shown to be dangerous.

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I would say yes if one knows the quality of the water in the house. Water quality or hose hygiene will potentially have far more of a potential health impact that the quality of a garden hose. The reason for this includes:

  • many garden houses are not connected to mains or reticulated water and could be connected to recycled or non-potable water sources.

  • hoses generally lay around and are in contact with soil and dust, This soil and dust residues which may be on or in the hose (or its fittings) is more likely to be an issue than a hose.

The ‘measures’ recommended in Dr Anne Marie Helmenstine popular article are not rocket science and would be considered good hygiene practices should one decide at some point to drink from a garden hose (assuming one knows the quality of the water). Notwithstanding this, how many people drink from garden hoses and if they do, how often. Frequency of exposure and age of the hose will all play a role in the likely materials (assuming they exist) in water within a garden hose.

How do you know this is from the hose? Was there some residues in the water can from last time it was used. Was the water of high quality and not contaminated…etc.

It is also possible that the garden hose contain some manufacturing residues which may have been used in its production to allow more ready extrusion and/or handling. Such materials may be washed away after first use of a hose.

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This is most likely plasticisers in the hose either residual from manufacture or leaching out on initial uses. We have had hoses that have for several months after purchase had significant amounts of “foam” developing on use, particularly if the hose was left in sunlight for a period before use. The smell was quite “plastic” in odour so assuming it was leaching from the hose compound. Taste was very ordinary to say the best.

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When I was young, we all drank from what was likely less safe hoses, and it caused us no serious problems, serious problems, serious problems…

:rofl:

Of greater concern is A Potential Health Risk Due to Legionella from the aerosol spray from the garden hose.

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That white foam may well have been release agent, which I think is a type of detergent, and is also used on other plastic products such as shade cloth and poly pipe.

I’ve always found the plasticy taste of water from the hose rather disgusting, so have only rarely done it, and always after a bit of flush time.

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I’ll second that and raise it to “absolutely disgusting” especially on a hot day when the water is tepid.

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Hmmm, my great uncle smoked a pipe and lived to 99. It caused him no serious problems. Well… the pacemaker at 85? Would he really know?
It’s unlikely most people know what serious problems exposure to toxins causes them down the track.
I have discovered this with air pollution. Who would think wood smoke is contributing to high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, heart attack, arrhythmia, diabetes, lung and other cancers, premature birth, and now dementia is moving onto the list, which goes on. This is accepted science. But who’s hearing this from their GP or heart specialist? Not my friends. Why is our government failing to publicise this? With WHO estimating over 4,700 premature deaths in Australia due to air pollution (more than double road and domestic violence fatalities) its clear the facts are not necessarily a driving force for policy.
I appreciate cirintas’s questions. We’d have a much reduced Medibank cost blow out if more were considered.

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The underlying problem is that often totally ignorant self serving politicians who pander to their special interest groups run the show, not scientists, not medical practitioners, and not us. Any report regardless of how small creates a near panic in some circles while in others the priority is ‘jobs, growth, and prosperity’ even if it kills everyone on the planet.

One would expect some things should be universally supported common sense such as clean water and clean air, but there is not even political agreement on those being prioritised over ‘jobs, growth, and prosperity’ as the pollies bleat.

While Australia is a huge player per capita it is a minor player in absolute terms so our government fobs off any need for change and enough of us prioritise ‘jobs, growth, and prosperity’ over almost anything related to that which acts to help sustain life. ‘We have met the enemy and he is us’ - Pogo, 1970

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Slightly off (my) topic - but yes - I was astonished to learn that dogs have about the same cancer rates as humans and, often, the same type of cancers. Why? I’m (just) old enough to remember the smoking beagles… I did some preliminary research and my guess is that a great many of these cancers are likely attributable to ULP emissions from cars with dodgy catalytic converters. Dog’s nose is on same level as those nasties. Long-nosed dog breeds get more nose cancers. The explainers blame passive smoking (erm) and chemicals in dog food (erm). So an owner and a dog go walkies every day along the roads and both get cancer. Wish I had the energy to research this properly, but it’s huge. Wish someone would (there is some small research contrasting rural and urban cancers) Everyone stop smoking and neither adult man or beast will get cancer - as long as they don’t live near a road.

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It’s an emotive subject, what causes cancer, what causes death?
The average PVC garden hose is not a leading cause of illness or death in Australia.

A little research of readily available sources suggests that the issues concerning death rates in rural and regional/remote areas of Australia are studied and of significant interest.

The ABC made a simple observation.

One Australian organisation had this to say about the health outcomes for those living outside the critical sphere or political self interest (IE The voters of the big SE Australian Capitals).

The overall incidence of cancer may be similar where ever you live in Australia. If there is one thing I’d be concerned about more than many other concerns in the community, it is the significant disadvantage in health outcomes for those not living next to main roads in big cities.

A rough estimate across the approx 7 millions referenced in the second article. More than 10million person years are being lost to the nation through early deaths. I don’t know how to put a financial loss/cost on that, however it may be offset in the cost savings to the government of providing less than average medical care and services to these regions.

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If there’s BPA in the water, is it really a problem? As others have said, the dose makes the poison.

The Feeding Tube did an episode on BPA in food containers.

Admitedly, a garden hose isn’t a food container. So levels of BPA might be significantly higher than those considered safe in food containers. It would be interesting to call up the manufacturer of the hose and ask them if they have assessed BPA levels in relation to food-grade vessels and the safety thresholds.

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On that we both can agree. Welcome back.

On the topic raised which is to do solely with the risks from garden hoses that may be made from PVC.

I’m not sure I’m about to start cooking using PVC garden hose in the kitchen, possibly because I know where the hose has been and that our outside water is untreated.

P.S.
Thanks for the warning. I believe Australian industry also abandoned lead stabilisers in PVC nearly ten years back, starting from 2002. It sort of seems a little late to be also discussing it as a concern.

BPAs In food containers is a separate topic. It has or is being phased out with actions dating back to around 2010. Plenty of exaggeration that perhaps should be tempered based on informed opinion.

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but there’s no safe dose of lead -

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Safe Work Australia has set a limit. It’s not zero! Like all toxic substances more is worse, less is better. Zero is impossible unless you move to a lead free planet. Pick up any handful of dirt anywhere and it is likely to have a background level of up to 30mg of lead per kilogram.

Notes:
I do prefer content that is Australian based.
What is permitted, regulated and the history in other nations is always different, and may be less important, even misleading, when compared to our local environment.

Australia has undertaken extensive change and improvement to significantly reduce lead being added to the environment.

For anyone who feels there is a need to understand the real and current levels of risk further.

One informed study by Macquarie University makes it very clear that the most significant sources of lead we might need to be concerned about are the soil in our front and back yards.

https://research.science.mq.edu.au/vegesafe/publications/

Nothing to do with PVC garden hoses, although regular use of one to keep the dust down and promote lawn growth might actually be a good idea.

https://research.science.mq.edu.au/vegesafe/latest-findings/

@clrintas, it’s always good to be cautious. Perhaps you have had the lead levels in your yard tested, or if there is another concern? I can only say that living in a very old house, where lead might be a risk, and using PVC garden hoses every day, my personal lead in blood level is nil. It was tested earlier this year.

Macquarie University also have been running a program backyard gardeners can access to have their soil tested. Probably a very useful service for those who have concerns about lead in their environment. I don’t think they test PVC hoses though.

https://research.science.mq.edu.au/vegesafe/

Apologies, we are now well off the topic. Although there is no evidence to suggest garden hoses are a serious risk of causing lead poisoning or elevated levels of BPA. CPVC and PEX are also often used in domestic plumbing, both types requiring Australian Standards approval.

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Thank you for your responses however my question remains, as yet, unanswered:

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Thanks for raising the topic @clrintas. I’ve found it most interesting. I share a concern about keeping safe from toxic chemical compounds.

Australia has phased out the use of lead in PVC and BPA is typically used as an additive to food grade polycarbonate plastics. Perhaps some garden hoses do contain small quantities of BPA? Although it is a strengthening additive which stiffens plastics, not what you need in a garden hose.

I feel more confident than ever that garden hoses are not a risk, when compared with lead in the backyard soil, or BPAs in metal can linings or take away containers. Choice looked at BPAs in food products over many years.

I will however value the choice of not moving back to a big city and needing to worry about the levels of lead found in many urban backyards. Or whether the plastic water pipes in the modern house hot and cold water supply contain BPAs?

If I didn’t feel it was safe using a garden hose I guess I could hand water with a metal can. That is something we could all do?

What would others choose given what we know. To hose or not to hose?

Some questions don’t require an answer, just better understanding of the problem at hand?

P.s. What I fear or respect most are some naturally occurring toxic chemicals and agents. At home it is more the risks from ticks and their long legless companions that are the greater source of toxic hazard.

Footnote on BPA added (edit)
Food Standards Australia - low risk, and where used.
https://www.foodstandards.gov.au/consumer/chemicals/bpa/Pages/default.aspx

Aust Govt Dept of Health - NICNAS assessments BPA compounds.
https://www.nicnas.gov.au/chemical-information/imap-assessments/imap-group-assessment-report?assessment_id=14040

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Interestingly the ingredients/components of the hose contains the phthalate DEHP. Would the hoses be safe if water was left in them and subsequently drunk. There is concern with DEHP see the following:

ACCC have a permanent ban on any product containing over 1 percent DEHP

https://www.nicnas.gov.au/chemical-information/factsheets/chemical-name/diethylhexyl-phthalate-dehp

DEHP also can be known as BEHP

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Just in relation to lead, it occurs naturally in soils. The concentration in soils used for food production can also be contributed by the use of fertilisers (both inorganic and organic types). In urban areas, industrial activities and lead fuel burning has also contributed to lead levels. So, it is important to recognise that lead in soils occurs naturally and has been contributed to by human activities.

As lead occurs naturally in plants, it can also occur naturally on water sourced from areas where soils and underlying geology contains natural lead. Lead from human activities can result in levels higher than would be naturally the case.

As humans drink water, humans have been consuming lead, albeit in very small concentrations, through our evolution.

The main concern is the exposure of babies to lead as there is evidence that this can impact on the development of a child.

Lead can also accumulate in a human body, meaning that consuming food or water containing high lead levels is more problematic than consuming very low levels, such as those which occur naturally. The risks lie where elevated levels of lead result from human activities and to which are not normal levels of consumption over a lifetime.

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