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Sand: What You Need To Know Before Getting In the Sandbox This Summer

July 8, 2015


I will admit, I don’t love the sandbox. I vacillate between accepting the inevitable and railing against it. Ah, nothing like consistent parenting. Somedays I think, who cares, I’ll hose her down at home. Other days I think, I am not interested in searching for pinworms on anyone. It hasn’t even occurred to me to worry about needles or other toxic nasties hiding in the sandbox (a mom pointed that possibility out to me the other day). But, my girl LOVES sand. Well, she loves soft, loose sand that you find on the beach or in newer, dryer playground. When I heard there was yet another reason to worry about sand, of all things, I’d had it.

Most play sand sold in California is labeled: “known …to cause cancer.” The exact same sand is sold across the country, but only California’s Proposition 65 requires the cancer warning to be on the package. The label warns of crystalline silica, the dust of which can cause fatal lung conditions with long-term exposure (“long-term” is the phrase to focus on here) .

Crystalline silica dust in play sand is rare because the particles are larger, so we are not breathing them in. The documented cases prompting the labeling are in industrial settings, where the sand is ground or hammered, resulting in lots of breathable dust over extended periods. There are not conclusive studies on children’s exposure.

The sand fight is contentious, as most things involving kids or cancer are. Some resolutely believe we are coddling our kids and are afraid of everything, the “we played in sand as kids and we’re just fine” team. Others are just as staunch in their beliefs that we need to avoid all potentially dangerous situations, regardless of the actual risk.  I think, life it too short. Don’t worry about what you can’t change, but make educated choices about the things you have control over. So if you are buying sand for that sand table in your home, which I assume you will also be using as a coffee/dining table, and you have few extra hundred dollars, you can buy silica free sand, which is crystalline silica dust-free. Or just go for molding sand or sensory beads instead. If you don’t have any nut allergies, some people recommend crushed walnut shells, which is available at the pet store. It’s 9.99 for 7lbs.

And if you were thinking you would sneak some from the beach, know that beach sand is silica, too, though the fine dust would have been washed away by the water. Aside from the guilt you will feel for adding to the erosion problem, this study shows that beach sand is full of contaminants from birds, sewage and urban run-off.

So the bottom line is this. Worms, junkies and potentially poisonous dust are apparently just part of city life. Accept it or move. Let them play. Unless you have them digging ditches in the sandbox twelve hours a day, they are going to be ok.