We all remember those hot, summer days we enjoyed when we were kids. After running and jumping around with our friends, all we want is water to rehydrate so we can go back to playing tag. Our parents grab the long garden hose in our backyard and turned the water pressure up high so the water is sprayed all over us and we can drink it. However, did you ever stop to think why that water tasted the way it did? Why did the water from the Brita tasted differently than the hose water? Little did you know, you were actually tasting hints of phthalate as well as BPA. But what is phthalate and BPA?
Within the last 20 years, there has been a rise in synthetic organic chemicals found in the environment. Specifically, the chemicals of concern are called environmental estrogens. These chemicals are basically affecting humans – or any organism that consumes the chemicals – by releasing hormones that can travel through our bloodstream and go to our organs. Once it has arrived at our organs, these hormones can tell our cells to start a cascade of actions such as interfering with our sex hormones (androgens [male] and estrogens [female]). These chemicals have also coined the name endocrine disruptors because they interfere with the endocrine system – which is a system that controls hormone production and release in our body. Some chemicals that are considered as environmental estrogens are:
- Polychlorinated Biphenyl (PCB)
- Phthalate Esters
Bisphenol-A (BPA) is one of the chemicals that are produced in bulk amounts – to be exact, 3 billion tons of BPA is made each year. It is used in everyday items because it lines food and beverage cans, baby bottles, etc. Why is this a problem? BPA can leak into the liquid inside of the can/bottle and ingested. A 2010 survey showed at least 91% of Canadians were detected to have BPA in their urine (1). Correlations between high levels of blood BPA to increased risk of cardiovascular disease have been observed in older populations (1). In addition, mothers who had high blood BPA has been correlated to the increase risk in female offsprings showing behavioral problems.
Phthalate esters are used as plasticizers in plastics like PVC because it adds flexibility and resilience to the plastics so it can last longer. Phthalates are dangerous because of how easily it can leach into liquids! They can be found in everyday items such as raincoats, shower curtains, plastic bags and garden hoses. They have also been found in makeup and shampoos, which is pretty crazy.
But… Why Should I Care?
One of the saddest effects these chemicals have on the environment is on wildlife itself. It can cause abnormalitites during reproduction and development of various of animals – frogs, seals, polar bears, birds, etc. You might think, “okay, but what does that have to do with ME?”
These chemicals are found everywhere. In everyday items, everywhere you go! Phthalates and BPA’s are only 2 out of the many other environmental estrogens out there! The U.S. EPA is still doing laboratory testing on most chemicals, but do not be surprised when you hear about other environmental estrogens in the next few years.
The next time you drink water from a hose, maybe you’ll start to think what you’re REALLY tasting! The Ecology Center did a study in 2012 to find out what is actually in the hose water (2). The hoses were all bought from Target, Walmart, Home Depot and Lowes. What they find was … mind-blowing. Some chemicals they observed:
- 67% of hoses contained PVC
- 5 hoses had phthalate – about 11-18% in liquids
- 1 or more phthalates in those hoses were banned in children’s products
- BPA levels of 0.34 – 0.91 ppm were found in the hose water, which is above the 0.1 ppm limit set by the EPA
As Gearhart said:
“Drinking water from a hose is one of the pleasures of summer. You shouldn’t need to worry that the water contains chemicals of concern from your garden hose”
– Jeff Gearhart, research director at the Ecology Center.
We need to start making changes. Buy more BPA free products and stop buying plastics/everyday household items before asking yourself if it is free of these toxic organic compounds.
(1) Baird, Colin, and Michael C. Cann. Environmental Chemistry. New York: W.H. Freeman, 2012.
(2) Ecology Center. “Hazardous Chemicals Found in Gardening Hoses; Can Leach Phthalates and BPA into Water.” Ecology Center, February 21, 2018.