Study: Many gardening products have high levels of toxic chemicals

Researchers at the Ann Arbor, Michigan-based Ecology Center tested nearly 200 garden essentials -- gloves, knee pads, hand tools, and hoses -- for heavy metals and chemicals known to pose a health risk. The results? The organization reports nearly two out of three products tested contained chemical levels of high concern.

"The chemicals that were found include lead, cadmium, phthalates and BPA," said Erika Schreder of the Washington Toxics Coalition, which joined with the Ecology Center in releasing the results.

The chemicals are linked to birth defects, hormone imbalance, learning delays and other serious health problems.

"I was really surprised by the findings in the garden gloves," Schreder said.

It turns out the grip dots in many cloth garden gloves contain Polyvinylchloride, or PVC. Experts say a lot of PVC is made with hormone disrupting chemicals called phthalates. Phthalates are chemicals used to soften plastic.

"The greatest concern would be for pregnant women and children," Schreder explained. "But you know, these are chemicals that disrupt hormonal levels. They have a number of different effects, and certainly any adult should be concerned about exposure to phthalates."

Based on the new research, the Washington Toxics Coalition says local gardeners may be using hand tools with high levels of lead in the plastic handle as well as the tool itself. Many garden hoses contain high levels of lead and phthalates, which can leach into the water sitting in your hose, and ultimately into the ground or in your system if you drink it.

"And the water we sampled that had been in the hose, had lead at a level 18 times what is permitted in drinking water," said Ecology Center's Jeff Gearhart.

For organic gardening educator Falaah Jones, at Seattle Tilth, the new study means more digging to help local gardeners find products that are toxin free and safe for your soil, your water and your family's health.

"Take lead for example. It's on the top couple inches of your soil, you are disturbing that soil. You might be getting that soil on your face. You might be walking into your house with the soil on your feet. You're breathing it, you're growing a carrot in the ground and maybe you're not washing off every little small particle. So that lead from all those different sources would have a cumulative effect. We would like to know where to buy the safest hoses, the safest gloves the safest tools and to avoid the products that are of concern," said Jones.

Concerned gardeners are encouraged to look for products that are PVC and lead free. And if you're not sure about your garden hose, don't drink out of it. Don't leave it laying out exposed to the sun where water can sit and absorb chemicals, and always flush out sitting water before watering edible plants.