The “Toxic” Garden Hose?

Readers, ainkhizkyi
This is an excerpt from the book, “From Cupcakes to Chemicals: How the Culture of Alarmism Makes us Afraid of Everything and How to Fight Back,” by Julie Gunlock (her real name — not a political statement!).  I love this book for its smart, funny look at the excessive fears foisted upon parents, forcing us to hover, because it really does feel as if everything — from cupcakes to chemicals — is out to harm our kids:

From Cupcakes to Chemicals, by Julie Gunlock. Excerpt from Chapter 2, “Be Afraid of Everything”

A few years ago, I was watching the news and was shocked to learn that my garden hose was incredibly dangerous. Say what? The newscaster anachoring the program that night seemed really upset about this story. He leaned forward in his seat, stuttered…and…wait…did I see him tear up? Did his voice just crack? Oh my gosh, he’s going to cry! SOMETHING MUST BE DONE! NOW!

…Yet the facts behind the “killer garden hoses lurking in your backyard” are hardly scary. The news story centered on the fact that most garden hoses are made of polyvinyl chloride, better known as PVC. PVC has high levels of lead and other chemicals and, therefore, the claim was that since children and pets sometimes drink from garden hoses, they were getting big doses of toxins when taking the occasional sip.

But before you read any more, just think about it: Do children and pets really drink a lot of water from garden hoses? Is the garden hose a main source of water for children and pets? Are they drinking gallons of water this way?

Sure, during summer months, kids consume some “garden hose water” as they play in the sprinkler or splash in the kiddie pool. They make take a gulp or two when mom’s watering the garden. But in general, kids do not get the bulk of their water in any given day — much less during their lives — from the garden hose.

…I was lucky I had time to look into this story and question its merits. I was able to ignore the hysteria and consider the facts. And those facts are reassuring. Most garden hoses are indeed made of polyvinyl chloride, which is toxic if consumed in large quantities. Yet it is impossible — let me repeat that word, impossible — for a human to consume enough water to reach toxic levels of PVC exposure. Why is this impossible? Because the amount of chemical that leaches into the water is so minuscule that a person would have to consume massive amounts of garden hose water in order for it to be a problem. And if a person attempted to drink the amount of water required to reach PVC toxicity, they’d first die of dilutional hyponatremia — death by water overdose.

…[But] right now there are moms out there who are sitting on patios watching their toddlers run through the sprinkler or jump in the kiddie pool who are filled with fear of their garden hose. You can almost envision the scene: Instead of just enjoying the moment watching their kids play and laugh, these moms are periodically stopping to pester junior not to drink through the hose.

Remember: Nothing is safe and your kids are under constant threat.

Remember: Nothing is safe to eat, do or buy, and your kids are under constant threat.


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52 Responses to The “Toxic” Garden Hose?

  1. Kvirtue March 20, 2014 at 10:55 am #

    I think I might have to get the book 🙂

  2. Jim March 20, 2014 at 11:03 am #

    I love the content free range kids has to offer, however, I’m not sure I quite agree with the garden hose being harmless. That is unless of course you live in the country, and get your water from a well that draws from a CLEAN source. These days, there is flouride added to almost all drinking water, which attacks the ability to dream, wonder, and imagine… not to mention it also has adverse effects on puberty and many other physical systems.

    Diet should realistically be the only area parents should be over-protective of their children in my eyes, given the way our society’s chosen leaders have approved us being poisoned in the names of greed and control.

  3. Shari March 20, 2014 at 11:08 am #

    Stupid, stupid newscaster. PVC isn’t just in hoses. PVC pipes are used in home plumbing systems to transport perfectly safe indoor tap water.

  4. QuicoT March 20, 2014 at 11:20 am #

    This is even stupider than Stranger Danger hysteria. I mean, vanishingly infinitessimally tiny though the Stranger Abduction risk is, it’s true that it’s not technically zero.

    But has any case of any child or any pet being harmed by drinking from a hose ever been documented, ever?!

    I think the number of victims here is a literal zero. Not that that’s going to stop the freakable-outable from freaking out. Especially when ratings are to be had…

  5. Emily March 20, 2014 at 11:24 am #

    Life is dangerous. Did you know that 100% of people who participate in life, eventually die?

  6. AnotherAnon March 20, 2014 at 11:33 am #

    I’m currently studying organic chem. PVC is a polymer consisting of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and chlorine. No lead. Am I missing something?

  7. Papilio March 20, 2014 at 11:34 am #

    Well, at least the typos are amusing:
    “I had time to look into this sotry and qusetion its merits.”
    So, if we extrapolate from that pattern, it should also be ‘itme’ and ‘mertis’, am I right?… 😛
    And what’s with the hear of their garden hose? Is it noisy? 😀

    But seriously, the only concern I’d have is salmonella and water gone bad because it’s been in the hose in the sun for a while. Minor problem, just wait for cold water.

  8. lollipoplover March 20, 2014 at 12:00 pm #

    An equal argument can be made that the equivalent chemicals are in the packaging of plastic water bottles, juice boxes, and pouches and the environmental impact this individually package waste will have on future generations.

    I wish these reporters would take their cameras into the office break room and stare down the Keurig coffee maker and those non-recyclable plastic pods that are heated to high temperatures to brew your individual cup. Compare the chemicals in that cup to the kid gulping a demon garden hose.
    *mind blows*

    We use our garden hose to water our vegetable garden. Which provides the food we…eat. Most gardens need watering by hoses or plumbing made with pvc.
    The garden hose! Next, the danger lurking in garden gnomes.

  9. Warren March 20, 2014 at 12:25 pm #

    Been drinking from hoses for over 40 yrs, and cancer free. And come summer will resume drinking from hoses, cause when it is hot, I am too damn lazy to go in the house, take off my work boots, head to the kitchen to get water.

    And Jim, the people behind the flouride conspiracy are also the ones that had JFK killed and hid the spaceship from the Roswell crash. Really, Jim.

  10. Michael F March 20, 2014 at 12:26 pm #

    It’s the old mantra of “if it bleeds, it leads”.

  11. SOA March 20, 2014 at 12:33 pm #

    i was always told not to drink from the hose because my mom put some kind of weed killer or fertilizer in it. I don’t know if that was true but that is why I didn’t. I guess my kids could but seems yucky to me since it sits on the ground and stuff. But they play in the hose for hours and love it.

    I am not one of the parents buying into all this plastic is the devil and food additives are going to kill us baloney.

  12. Marni March 20, 2014 at 12:34 pm #

    @Jim: You said, “These days, there is flouride added to almost all drinking water, which attacks the ability to dream, wonder, and imagine… not to mention it also has adverse effects on puberty and many other physical systems.”

    Really? Citations, please, on how flouride attacks the ability to dream, wonder, and imagine.

  13. Orange you glad March 20, 2014 at 12:36 pm #

    Well, that explains both my perfect smile and my perfect lack of imagination. Drinking fluoridated water from the garden hose during childhood.

  14. Andrew March 20, 2014 at 12:40 pm #

    It’s true,drinking from a garden hose is dangerous. A friend of mine told me that his sister’s cousin”s best friend drank from a garden hose and 25 years later,he died.

  15. OPMom March 20, 2014 at 1:20 pm #

    It’s reminiscent of the “yoga mat” PB&J sandwich paranoia. A food additive chemical (comprised only of Oxygen, Hydrogen & Nitrogen)is linked to asthma when used as a blowing agent in some industrial applications, including yoga mat making. Baked in commercial breads, no harm. And despite the fact that water (hydrogen & oxygen)and nitrogen (80% of earths atmosphere) in this combination and application cause no harm, the fearful wingnuts, propelled by uniformed media inciters, get their frenzy on. I actually saw a FB post that positioned it as “are you sending your kid to school with a TOXIC lunch?” Geesh…

  16. BL March 20, 2014 at 1:33 pm #

    Ban dihydrogen monoxide!

  17. lollipoplover March 20, 2014 at 1:44 pm #

    I drank from the garden hose when I was younger just like my dogs did. We both had shiny coats and pearly white teeth.

  18. SOA March 20, 2014 at 1:51 pm #

    Fluoride added to water is a good thing as far as dental health goes. My friend only gives her kids bottled water and they both have horrible teeth. So bad the little boy had to have caps put on every one of his baby teeth at like 2 years old. There were other contributing factors but that fluoride they might have gotten from tap water could have helped prevent it or lessened the severity of it.

  19. Arianne March 20, 2014 at 2:20 pm #

    Here’s another story about a student getting in trouble for doing the right thing and telling the truth about it.

  20. Arianne March 20, 2014 at 2:22 pm #

    Hmmm, not sure why that didn’t link.

  21. Havva March 20, 2014 at 2:39 pm #

    Your link didn’t have an ‘http’ or a ‘www’ the system probably didn’t recognize it as a link.

    Sorry to see the story. I went to a middle school like that. The administration didn’t treat us like humans, and it made a lot of kids depressed and a lot of kids angry. There were many fights, a few suicides, plenty of cutting. It was a toxic environment, and they were very clear that they didn’t care about the students. My sister was threatened with a referral for expulsion because she walked into the office to hand in a plastic knife that mom put in her lunch. The same administrators, however, refused to do anything about students being assaulted unless a member of the staff saw. They had such horrid opinions of every student no number of witnesses would convince them of anything.

    I follow rules to a fault but that administration is the reason I helped hide a sharp knife (a friend’s mom put it in her lunch). They were also the reason I hid ‘drugs,’ because they wouldn’t let a friend (who’s sister died of an asthma attack that started while she was in the hospital) have her asthma inhaler. They eventually let the identical twin of the deceased have an inhaler on her person but it was a hell of a fight for that.

  22. wombat94 March 20, 2014 at 3:06 pm #


    I’m not sure what agenda you have with fluoridated water, but I’d like to point out the fallacy that you have proposed.

    Your contention is that drinking fluoridated water is harmful… which has nothing to do with whether drinking from a garden hose is harmful.

    I don’t live in the country, but I DO get my water from a CLEAN source in the suburbs. Both I and my kids drink that water from the taps inside our house as well as from the garden hose… PVC and all.

  23. J.T. Wenting March 20, 2014 at 3:09 pm #

    PVC has no lead or other chemicals in it. It’s just a plastic.
    It might be mixed with other plastics and chemicals to make other compounds, but that’s another story entirely, it’d no longer be PVC.

    I guess the main reason for “lead in PVC” is lead based paint used in some paints that in the distant past (before they were rightly removed from production) were used to paint many plastic goods.

    Now, PVC itself is no longer allowed for food carriers and hasn’t been for decades, mostly because it can leach toxins into the content of containers if used to store things for prolonged periods.
    But it should be safe enough to sip a few mouthfuls of water from a PVC garden hose, especially after it’s been running for a few minutes.

    Apparently the author never did any actual study of her/his own, just aped the “chemicals are bad, any chemicals in any amounts” mantra of the terminally uninformed.

  24. Hels March 20, 2014 at 3:43 pm #

    I love the “chemicals bad, naturals good” approach. When my patients sell me that line, I always remind them of the perfectly natural, yet perfectly deadly mushrooms.

  25. Matthew March 20, 2014 at 3:48 pm #

    To those asking about the chemistry….

    Chemical reactions are often reversible, and there are numerous side reactions.

    Chlorination of ethylene will leave some amount of chlorine in the monomer and resulatant polymer, but not above its soluble level, so while it’s there, any exposure will be through ingestion(Harmless), not inhalation(Bad).

    In addition, when PVC pellets are heated for manufacturing, under pure circumstances PVC will decompose and release HCl gas, and weaken. There are lead salts (Pb cation with an anion) that inhibit the decomposition. These are being phased out though.

    Is it worth a big panic? No. But, speaking as a chemical engineer working in safety for Big Business, it is worth finding safer and sustainable alternatives, and we work on that on a continual basis (at least the good and successful companies). Reality is in between the people that don’t care and mock those concerned, and those that panic without working through a true risk analysis.

  26. J.T. Wenting March 20, 2014 at 4:04 pm #

    “I love the “chemicals bad, naturals good” approach. When my patients sell me that line, I always remind them of the perfectly natural, yet perfectly deadly mushrooms.”

    or tell them about the way that aspirin they just got would have caused them severe ulcers if it’d come from its natural source, willow bark, rather than the chemical plant where it’s created without all the toxic pollutants.

  27. Havva March 20, 2014 at 4:11 pm #

    My dad’s response to “it’s natural!” is: “so is arsenic.”

  28. K March 20, 2014 at 4:13 pm #

    My sister found drinking from the hose to be very dangerous, indeed.

    My brother turned it off, instructed her to put the hose in her mouth, then turned it on all the way.

    Her nose was a temporary fountain and we all fell down laughing at her. I am not sure I’ve ever seen her eyes that saucer-large since.

    Didn’t kill her though, that must’ve happened in maybe 1971. We do still tease her about it today.

  29. Jenny Islander March 20, 2014 at 4:22 pm #

    @Jim: If fluoride in our water supply attacks our ability to dream, wonder, and imagine, then why has nerd culture gone mainstream?

    Fluoride affects puberty? Citation please.

  30. justme March 20, 2014 at 5:11 pm #

    whatis toxic garden?

  31. Bob Roberts March 20, 2014 at 8:38 pm #

    Everyone here is missing the details on the dangers of PVC. Phthalates are used to soften PVC. These phthalates are endocrine disruptors – in that, they mimics the female hormone estrogen. Very very small amounts of phthalates have profound effects on the human body. Its not a poison in the traditional sense, which is why just a trace presence of it can have such influence. In large amounts, the effects are much more obvious but thats not a big deal as this book discusses… its the trace amounts that is of major concern. I recommend everyone here do a little research on endocrine disruptors and understand how it effects the human physiology.

  32. Bob Davis March 20, 2014 at 8:49 pm #

    We’ve been instructed to use a special white hose to connect our Motorhome water system to “city water” or to fill the fresh water tank. Not sure whether common garden hoses are really that hazardous, or the RV suppliers just want to sell the more expensive “drinking water certified” hoses. Regarding flouride: in some areas, the natural water supply has flouride already in it, and the people who live in those areas tend to have good teeth.

  33. Betsy in Michigan March 20, 2014 at 9:16 pm #

    Oh fer cryin’ out loud. This is old news, people don’t do their own research. Yes, there is indeed nasty stuff in your garden hose (lead, pthalates, cadmium, etc.)

    But the same people who get hysterical about these sound bites give not a thought to the other areas of their life where they could live cleaner and healthier (organic food, non-DEET bug repellants, skipping lawn chemicals, reducing BPA’s, avoiding other endocrine disrupters in cosmetics, whatever). You do the best you can based on real and current science, not Fox News type journalism. A drink from a garden hose is probably about like a week’s worth of a daily sodapop in a can. Or some of the crap we pay for and eat at a burger joint. If the news really cared about people’s health, and not ratings, it would really be something…..

  34. Alex March 20, 2014 at 9:17 pm #

    I liked this one. I love the posts that make me laugh (instead of wanting to tear my hair out in frustration at how unreasonable our world has become). Thanks for the absurdity boost!

  35. Alex March 20, 2014 at 9:19 pm #

    Oh, and I like BL’s comment, too. Ha!

  36. Reziac March 20, 2014 at 9:53 pm #

    Hmm. I’ve been drinking from the garden hose rather regularly, in fact sometimes getting ALL my water from the hose, for over 50 years.

    My dogs drink from the hose too.

    I see the problem now — we’re all dead, and no one told us!!

    The main problem with PVC is that it reacts with chlorine, and the result tastes like a stale corpse. If you think your city water is ‘bad’, it’s probably this, not the water itself.

  37. CrazyCatLady March 20, 2014 at 11:16 pm #

    My ducks and geese should be dead. And unable to reproduce. ALL of their water for their drinking and swimming in their little kiddie pools comes through hoses. They drink it, they swim in it, they bathe in it, they poop in it and then they drink it.

    Though, I must say, I don’t encourage my kids to drink from the hose. Not because of chemicals that might leach out when the hose is in the sun and about 150 degrees, but because the hoses sit in the sun and build up slim of sort on the inside. Probably not deadly, at least not to the dogs, ducks and geese, but really nasty looking when the hose freezes and then the ice gets pushed out by the force of the water.

    And really, unless I am really thirsty…water from the hose, unless it has run enough to waste a lot of water, just tastes nasty.

  38. CrazyCatLady March 20, 2014 at 11:29 pm #

    Oh, I forgot to mention, that I started with 5 geese and 10 ducks…and despite me trying to keep them from hatching eggs, they do so every year. The first year they had a low hatch rate, but last year pretty much every egg hatched. I would be overrun if I had not been able to sell and give away some of the ducks and geese. The ones that drink the water from the hoses.

  39. gap.runner March 21, 2014 at 1:50 am #

    I should have died a long time ago. My friends and I spent mot of our time playing outdoors. We were too lazy/busy to go inside and get ourselves a drink, so we would drink from the garden hose. Somehow we all lived through it. Or maybe it’s really my ghost writing this comment….

  40. caveat March 21, 2014 at 2:18 am #

    Assuming anyone is actually worried about what leaches, a simple solution is to just run the hose a bit before drinking. That way you’ll not be drinking water that has sat in the hose and at the very least tastes awful.

    The advice to run water before drinking applies also to old houses where the plumbing may have high levels of lead. The latter at least is a genuine issue, though not one to lose tons of sleep over since the solution is easy.

  41. Andrew_M_Garland March 21, 2014 at 2:42 am #

    If you drank a gallon of water that had sat in the hose for days, there might be a slight problem. Drinking water which is running through the hose probably has undetectible levels of PVC contamination, as the water is in contact with the hose for mere seconds.

    On that note. People drink wine from lead crystal wine glasses. Wine is acidic and dissolves lead out of the glass. There is no problem because the wine is in the glass for say an hour, not enough time to dissolve a significant amount.

    But, people also store port, sherry, or spirits in lead crystal decanters. So pretty. The liquid contacts the glass for months, accumulating a high level of lead. Fortunately, low level lead poisoning doesn’t affect adults much because their brains are not developing, and children are not drinking those contents.

  42. Ben March 21, 2014 at 3:24 am #

    Chemophobia has been driving me crazy since I began my study of chemistry back in 1999. The first thing we learned was the definition of the word chemical. Pretty much everything around us that is made up of atoms, molecules or ions.

    Water is a chemical and so is blood. You need both to live.

    Secondly, the thing the “chemical is bad, natural is good” crowd always forgets about is dosage. Water is generally good for you, unless you drink so much that the concentration of certain chemicals in your cells drops below a certain treshhold, essentially causing water poisoning.

    PVC is a plastic or as chemists call it, a polymer. A long chain of repeated molecules linked together. Their sheer size tends to make them insoluble. Before you reach anywhere near harmful amounts of PVC (or byproducts) in your drinking water, you’d have died of old age.

    As for the additives in food: in Europe they are regularly tested and re-tested. The highest dose at which no adverse effects are observed is lowered 100-fold and that will be the allowed dosage in food products. If you eat those daily for the rest of your life, you will suffer no ill-effects.

    Of course, the so-called E-numbers might look scary, but they merely mean they’ve been tested and found safe. the acid in lemons is an additive as are several other common materials. Not everything is out to kill you.

  43. bmommyx2 March 21, 2014 at 4:28 am #

    I love your blog, but I am going to have to disagree with you on this one. I think that the book author didn’t do her research & the newscaster didn’t either. The concern over a “toxic” pvc garden hose is not that drinking from it will kill you or your child and lead is not the only chemical of concern. First of all there is no safe level of lead exposure for a child. This is what the CDC has to say. Low levels of lead can affect the brain & learning / development for children. The other chemicals can lead to other problems and diseases including cancer. Do I think one garden hose is going to lead to heath problems? NO, but the effect is cumulative & there are lots of toxic, disease / cancer causing chemicals in our environment that we are exposed to every day. There are lots of well respected organizations that have done research in this area. Personally my philosophy is to eliminate as many of the toxins that I have control over as much as reasonable possible & don’t stress over the rest. Have I replace all my hoses? NO, but I did buy one drinking water safe hose & that is what the kids use to play with & fill their water table & yes lots of people fill the dog bowl with the hose or water their vegetable garden & fruit trees, no one I know is giving fido bottles of Evian.

  44. bmommyx2 March 21, 2014 at 4:35 am #

    For those of you commenting about PVC not having lead it can be contaminated with lead, but I believe the main problem comes from the brass fitting on the end where most of the lead comes from. I also read that there is more lead in the certain color hoses like green.

  45. JaneW March 21, 2014 at 5:01 am #

    @CrazyCatLady: “really nasty looking when the hose freezes and then the ice gets pushed out by the force of the water.”

    I generally drain my hoses before winter. I always thought that they’d be damaged or torn if water froze inside them, just like pipes can burst if they freeze.

  46. Rachel March 21, 2014 at 9:40 am #

    I’ve been thinking..When I was a kid, I was exposed to leaded gas, lead paint, smelly plastics, TV dinners, Twinkies and Tang.

    I now use glass food storage and steel water bottles (thought the kids kept losing them, so now I’m back to plastic ones). The kids eat some junk food, but the kind I bake or buy from Trader Joe’s (with fewer chemicals).

    And yet my kids both have chronic illnesses that are worse than anything I suffered as a kid or even now as a middle-aged adult.

  47. Buffy March 21, 2014 at 10:03 am #

    @Jim, my water was fluoridated throughout my childhood, and I went through puberty pretty much on schedule and normally. So did everyone I know, and our kids after them. So yeah, link?

  48. Andrew_M_Garland March 21, 2014 at 1:30 pm #

    If broccoli were not grandfathered as a vegetable, it could not be approved by the EPA for human consumption, because of the natural carcinogens it contains which greatly exceed any pesticide residues.

    Plants Make Their Own Pesticides

  49. Gary March 21, 2014 at 2:03 pm #

    “Really? Citations, please, on how flouride attacks the ability to dream, wonder, and imagine.”

    One could argue his post if a perfect example of the damage it can do…


    “Been drinking from hoses for over 40 yrs, and cancer free. And come summer will resume drinking from hoses, cause when it is hot, I am too damn lazy to go in the house, take off my work boots, head to the kitchen to get water.”

    Exactly, my son is almost three and my daughter almost two, THEY.LOVE.THE.HOSE. We are on a well and they cannot get enough of playing with the water stream.

    I plan on waterboarding them both this summer so they know what to expect just in case they get kidnapped by a bear or coyote, or worst yet one of the millions of strangers lurking around our property just waiting to abduct them.

  50. Asya March 21, 2014 at 4:37 pm #

    Jim you are a bafoon and I could not disagree with you more. Fluoride needs to be added to the water supply because the population cannot regulate its own intake of this tooth-healthy chemical. The box does say to contact a poison control center immediately if you intake it, but it is NOT harmful in your mouth or your child’s mouth for 2 minutes twice a day every day. Since fluoride has quietly been added to the water supply, our teeth have been getting healthier! Just look at how many fewer children need braces and get cavities. I respond to your romantic conspiracy theory with a mocking snarl. There are no such things. We need to trust what the medical establishments’ say on children’s health. Yes, doctors in the 1890’s would have laughed at the notion of hygienic childbirth, and mocked breastfeeding in the 1940s. But as soon as 1985 they discovered that babies feel pain, and stopped performing medical procedures (including rib-prying, open heart surgery) without any anesthesia. Why don’t you direct yourself to professionals at AAP, AMA, ADA. They will NOT tell you that fluoride calcifies the pineal gland, so it does NOT lower the ability to “dream, wonder, and imagine.” You are like SO stupid! If it did, kids today would have no independent thinking or logical reasoning. And if flouuride is bad, our governments would prohibit the addition of it!!! Just like they stop the carcinogenic flame retardantz in kids matressess and strollers and stuff. And the plastics that make boy’s weenies no good. Why am i even talking to you Jim?! I’m going to brush my teeth with Crest and listerine, at least I will have SHINY TEEHT!!1!111!

  51. CrazyCatLady March 21, 2014 at 9:50 pm #

    Jane W, yes, most of the hoses used for watering flowers, garden and grass, are emptied and put away before freeze.

    But…the kids really prefer to use a hose as long as possible to water the ducks and geese. A hose really beats hauling bucket after bucket of water to the pool for the animals. So they (kids) use a hose for as long as possible.

    At this point, 90% of the care and feeding of the animals is done by the kids. So I will let them use a crappy dog chewed hose for as long as possible, but the hose does need to come off before we reach 20F so that we can cover outside spigots with insulating caps, and close the door for the one that is in a shed to prevent freezing.

  52. serena March 22, 2014 at 9:00 pm #

    Green potatoes are toxic too-if you eat 5 pounds in one sitting. So I feel just as comfortable eating a green potato now and then as I do drinking from my garden hose.