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Toxic Gardening Tools: Legitimate Problem?

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Gardening season has arrived, and avid gardeners are already tilling the soil, sowing seeds and watering plants. Yet a new caution on the horizon has gardeners wondering about more than the effects of fertilizers and bug sprays. The level of toxicity of their garden tools – which may contain substances such as cadmium, lead or other toxic substances that people should not touch without wearing gloves – has far-reaching ramifications for gardening safety.

The website HealthyStuff.org published some results of a recent study by the Ann Arbor-based Ecology Center in an article, May 3, 2012: “High amounts of lead, phthalates and the toxic chemical BPA were all found in the water of a new hose after sitting outside in the sun for just a few days…”[1] Not a happy thought for gardeners. How did these chemicals get there in the first place? What are the effects on the gardener, the garden environment and the produce? Do we just toss our tools in the garbage or what is one to do? Research director Jeff Gearhart of the Ecology Center, noted, “Even if you are an organic gardener, doing everything you can to avoid pesticides and fertilizers, you still may be introducing hazardous substances into your soil by using these products.”

Gearhart noted that 90 different hoses, 53 types of gardening gloves, many tools and a variety of kneeling pads were tested by the Ecology Center. Their research scientists detected some chemicals shown to interfere with the human body’s endocrine system that may impair learning, possibly cause birth defects and cause other health issues. CNN, picking up on the gardening tool-related health issue, said researchers found significant levels of one or more toxic chemicals including lead, phthalates and bisphenol A or BPA[2], and concerns exist about the chemicals present which may affect liver toxicity in humans.

The Ecology Center has issued a guide which can be found by checking the HealthyStuff.org website and has made some recommendations to gardeners to help reduce the risk of using gardening products that may be questionable. Here are a few:

  • Don’t use garden tools that are vinyl or coated with vinyl;
  • Don’t store a hose in the sun as heat increases the risk of toxins leeching from the garden hose;
  • Don’t use hoses made with polyvinyl chloride (PVC) if you are watering garden plants or your pets (or children) drink from the hose! Use a hose that is certified for drinking water;
  • Run the water in the hose for a few minutes before watering plants; and
  • Always wash your hands before or after touching gardening tools!

Most of us have been using gardening tools similar to many of these for years, perhaps decades. Have they caused us any harm? Who knows, but at least we can make informed choices when purchasing our next garden hose or pair of gloves.


[1] “New Study Finds Lead, Cadmium, BPA, Phthalates and Hazardous Flame Retardants in Gardening Products”, May 3, 2012, HealthyStuff.org http://www.healthystuff.org/

[2] “Study: Toxic Chemicals Found in Garden Tools”, CNN, May 3, 2012,