(NaturalNews) Allowing your kids to play with the garden hose, filling the inflatable kiddie pool, nourishing your garden with hose water -- these all seem like harmless activities. However, research is now proving otherwise.
Many commercially bought water hoses contain dangerously high levels of lead which leech into the water flowing through them. In fact, according to Consumer Reports, water sitting in a garden hose that has been left in the sun can contain a level of lead that reaches 100 times over what is considered a safe amount.
Many garden hoses are made of PVC (polyvinyl chloride) - a toxic plastic - and lead is often used as a stabilizer in PVC. The dangerous levels of lead in garden hoses could potentially cause lead poisoning, cancer, birth defects and/or reproductive harm.
According to a special ABC report on Good Morning America, reporters from ABC's Phoenix affiliate KNXV-TV randomly purchased 10 garden hoses at places such as Wal-Mart, Target, Ace Hardware, and Home Depot (http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/Consumer/story?id=...). These reporters filled sections of the garden hoses with clean water, sealed the ends and put these hoses outside for about a day. The water was then delivered to a lab.
Five of the 10 hoses, or 50%, came back showing levels of lead much higher than 15 parts per billion (ppb), which is what the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) deems safe for drinking water. Four of those hoses came back showing extremely high lead levels. The same report found that some garden variety hoses are leaking up to 20 times the amount considered safe for usage. Consumer Reports also tested 16 of the most popular hoses sold nationwide, finding that many leached up to 100 times the safe amount at the initial flush of standing water.
Imagine the water flowing through these hoses contaminated with such high levels of lead - do you want your kids splashing around in it in a kiddie pool, or drinking it in the midst of summer play outdoors?
Why exactly is lead exposure so dangerous?
Lead is highly toxic and harmful even in very low doses. The Environmental Protection Agency clearly states on their website that exposure to lead in water that is being consumed above the action level, or 15 ppb, can result in delays in physical and mental development in children, anemia, and muscle problems. In adults, it can cause increases in blood pressure and, eventually with heavy exposure, the development of kidney problems or nerve disorders.
According to the National Safety Council, young children under the age of six are especially vulnerable to lead's harmful effects because their brains and central nervous system are still being developed. For these children, even very low levels of exposure can have disastrous effects, from reduced IQ and behavioral problems to stunted growth and kidney damage. At higher levels of exposure, children could become mentally retarded, fall into a coma, and even die from lead poisoning. Within the last decade, children have died from lead poisoning in both New Hampshire and in Alabama.
Lead can also enter tap water through corrosion of plumbing materials, which is another important reason to invest in a good water filter. Homes built before 1986 are more likely to have lead pipes; however, new homes are also at risk because even legally "lead-free" plumbing can contain up to 8 % lead.
Lead-laden soil and your beloved garden
And let's not forget about the fate of your garden. The same lead-infused water your children may be playing in is most likely also being used to saturate the soil your fresh-grown veggies are growing in.
A disheartening New York Times article on lead in garden soil said that lead is "surprisingly prevalent and persistent" in both urban and suburban soil, which is more increasingly being used for the foundation of home gardens. Many health officials, soil scientists and even environmental engineers are concerned that the increasing popularity of urban "backyard" gardening will put more people at risk for lead poisoning and other hazardous health effects especially those that don't protect themselves.
The EPA and Department of Housing and Urban Development suggest -- but don't require --- lead levels in soil of lower than 400 parts per million (ppm) in children's play areas, and 1,200 p.p.m. in all other soil. However, many and cities, states, and entire countries have set much lower limits, such as in the Netherlands, where 40 p.p.m. is considered highly substandard. Most unpolluted soil averages about 10 p.p.m. In the New York Times article mentioned, one random urban resident's garden had soil containing lead levels of 939 p.p.m.
Dangerous amounts of lead have been documented for almost a decade in backyard and community gardens in major cities such as New York, New Orleans, Boston, Chicago, Baltimore, Los Angeles, and many others.
Lead-laden soil has been found in both inner city neighborhoods and suburban areas. The reasons for these hazardous levels of soil contamination are many, from lead paint, leaded gasoline, lead arsenate pesticides, lead plumbing, lead batteries and automotive parts, roadways, and so on. While many of these products may have been banned years ago, the remnants of highly toxic lead often remain in the environment. Now, lead-laden garden hoses can be added to the list of dangerous hidden lead.
How to avoid lead contamination
While environmental engineers and soil experts have said any place is potentially tainted with soil contaminated with lead, there are steps that can be taken in order to protect yourself and your family.
First, eliminate the potentially poisonous garden hose and replace it with one you know for certain is safe and lead-free. This will drastically reduce the amount of lead being deposited in your yard and notably eliminate direct exposure when watering by hand or caring for the garden.
A lead-free garden hose is also much safer for providing children a much-needed drink or play in the sprinklers, and pets will also be spared of potential lead poisoning from water bowls filled from the hose.
Warning labels accompany hoses in some cases, but not all. A lead-free garden hose will clearly be marked as safe for drinking. One idea is to invest in a medical grade hose with nickel-plated fittings. These hoses are often sold as marine or recreational vehicle (RV) hoses and are commonly sold in marine/RV stores.
The types of garden hoses that Consumer Reports claim to be safe from lead contamination are as follows:
• Teknor Apex Boat & Camper NeverKink
• Swan Marine/Camper
• Gardener's Supply Co. 33-469
• Better Homes and Gardens Kink-free
Keep in mind that these manufacturers might produce other hoses that are not lead-free, so read packaging closely to ensure you have the right hose. Although it is impossible to eliminate all contaminates from the environment, switching to a lead-free garden hose is a good start as well as an intelligent choice for the health conscious consumer.
The widespread presence of lead contamination in soil doesn't mean you have to give up gardening, but it does suggest the necessity of caution, as well as a possible change in plot design and crop choice.
Local public health departments and county extension services often offer free soil testing; at the least, they can recommend companies or schools that do it for a small fee. Individuals generally mail dirt in sealed plastic bags for analysis.
If high levels of lead are found in your soil, experts advise covering it with sod. You can also alkalinize the contaminated soil by adding organic matter such as compost and lime, or replace it entirely. Soil with a pH level above 7 binds with lead, which lessens the chance of absorption by both crops and the human body. Fortunately, the body will eliminate low levels of lead naturally, as long as you maintain a healthy daily diet.
Home gardens can be planted with fruiting crops such as squash, eggplant, tomatoes, corn and beans because these plants don't easily absorb lead. Some lead-leaching crops are leafy greens, herbs, and root vegetables such as potatoes and carrots.