Sand: What You Need To Know Before Getting In the Sandbox This Summer
My kids happily play in the sand – beach or sandbox – for hours at a time. Now that Jenn has outgrown the sand-eating phase and is almost out of the sand-throwing phase, it’s fun for all of us. I have rolled my eyes at my friend who won’t let her daughters play in the sandbox at our local playground. I dismissed her distaste for the sandbox as beach snobbery. Though maybe she is on to something.
Being city dwellers and public park users, we overlook sandboxes’ obvious problems: cats use them as litter boxes and rats use them however they like. Sadly enough, people use them as rest rooms, ashtrays and receptacles for various unsavories: condoms, crack vials, old Pirate’s Booty and other things we would rather our kids not touch, much less, play in. But germs are everywhere and we have lots of soap at home, I figure.
More troubling is the label on most play sand sold in California, “known …to cause cancer.” I should note that 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 warning is compelling, and scary. The label warns of crystalline silica, the dust of which can cause fatal lung conditions with long-term exposure.
My understanding is that crystalline silica dust in play sand is unlikely as the particles are larger and we are not breathing them in. The documented cases 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, which definitely begs that more attention be paid.
The sand fight is contentious, as are most disputes regarding the possible safety of our kids. Some resolutely believe we are “sissifying” 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 tend to walk the middle, and I liked these suggestions to help avert potential silica dust exposure in play sand, which is available everywhere — at toy stores, Home Depot, Lowes, WalMart – 50 lbs for $4.
Of course, there are options if you would like to further control your children’s exposure to crystalline silica-containing sand. Remember, of course, that city parks and playgrounds are using “plain old sand,” though I haven’t heard back from them regarding what kind.
If you have few hundred dollars, you can buy silica free sand, which is crystalline silica dust-free. (I wish I knew if a simple hose could make hardware store variety play sand dust-free as well.) It’s $60 for 50 lbs, shipping included.
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.
Pea gravel, (tiny pebbles), widely available at gardening and hardware stores, is another way to avoid the whole problem, though you can’t make a sand castle with it. You can, however dig and pour. This seems to be a choking hazard, so perhaps is not best for kids who put everything in their mouths.
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 questionable legality of such a maneuver, this study shows that beach sand is full of contaminants from birds, sewage and urban run-off.
What to do? Like everything else, all we can do: learn what we can and decide what works best for our families.
Do your kids play in the sandbox in the park? And what do you use, if you’re lucky enough to have space for a sandbox or sand table at home?