Health Dangers in Your Hose: Are You Watering Your Garden With Endocrine Disruptors and Toxic Chemicals?
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Aside from these harmful chemicals, a few products were also found to contain flame retardants and the heavy metals cadmium and antimony. Gearhart was surprised to find flame retardants in a water hose, but when the researchers found bromine in their tests, they looked further to find its source, and it came from brominated flame retardants. The hoses that tested positive for flame retardants were made from recycled materials, making Gearhart wonder if the manufacturer had recycled flame retardant plastics into garden hoses.
It's easy to evaluate the impacts of toxic chemicals when they are in drinking water, but it becomes far more complex once they are in your garden. For each chemical, one must consider how quickly they break down, and what they break down into, whether they bind to soil or to water, and whether they are taken up into plants. If they are taken up into plants, the next question is, which part – roots, leaves, fruits, or seeds? And finally, are there children in your garden (or perhaps even adults) who will have a lot of contact with the soil or even eat it?
So what can you do if you are a gardener? If you can afford it, replace your hose. The Ecology Center's Healthy Stuff Web site offers a list of safe garden hoses, many of which are made from natural rubber. But for those who cannot replace their hose quickly, Gearhart offers a few tips. First of all, no drinking out of the hose! Second, store your hose in the shade. And third, let your hose run for a few moments before using it to water your plants.
Another strategy? Don't water your plants unless you need to. Wait until the soil is dry an inch below the surface or until your plants are slightly wilted in the evening before watering, and check the weather to see if rain is in the forecast. To help your soil conserve moisture, add a thick layer of mulch – at least three inches. This will have other benefits in addition to conserving moisture, as it encourages the growth of beneficial microbes, breaks down to enrich your soil, and prevents soil from splashing on your plants during waterings, thus preventing soil-borne plant diseases.
If you are worried that your soil is already contaminated with toxins, it's easy and inexpensive to test for heavy metals like lead but more complicated and expensive to test for other chemicals. The University of Massachusetts provides soil testing for lead for only $10. If you find your soil is contaminated, the solution might be as simple as planting sunflowers. Sunflowers are just one of many plants useful in a strategy called phytoremediation, in which plants help remove or break down toxins in the soil. The good news about sunflowers is that they are easy to grow in even the worst soil – and they are beautiful. However, if you go that route, be sure to toss your sunflowers out after they've grown, because if you put them in your compost pile, you'll return the toxins back to your soil.
Jill Richardson is the founder of the blog La Vida Locavore and a member of the Organic Consumers Association policy advisory board. She is the author of Recipe for America: Why Our Food System Is Broken and What We Can Do to Fix It. .