Safer Play Sand

Last year, I went to a garden store to pick up a few bags of sand. At a garage sale I had found a sandbox, and I was intent on filling it up and letting my toddler dig, pile and create to her heart’s content.

I got it home, then noticed a label on the bottom of the bag, that read the now famous line, dust from this sand “is known to cause cancer in the state of California.” Annoyed from the wasted time and money, I threw the bags in our garden shed to be returned (where they sit this very minute).

Fast forward to another spring, and thoughts of outdoor play. We have a new play set care of my kid’s generous grandparents. There is a great little spot for a sandbox. I visited my neighbor today, and she had just bought sand that looked less refined then what I had bought, and it didn’t have the warning label. I checked the website of the company, and sure enough, it contained a hazardous material warning. Not on the bag, mind you, but on the website. So folks are buying this sand without knowing that it might be bad for their kids.

So what is the problem? Apparently, most types of play sand contain crystalline silica and asbestos tremolite. The silica is derived from quartz stone and is a known carcinogen. California’s fantastic Prop 65 requires the labeling of carcinogen’s in products for sale in that state.

OSHA (Occupational Health and Safety Administration) says this about crystalline silica, “Silica, Crystalline: Silicosis is a disabling, nonreversible and sometimes fatal lung disease caused by overexposure to respirable crystalline silica. More than one million U.S. workers are exposed to crystalline silica, and each year more than 250 die from silicosis. There is no cure for the disease, but it is 100 percent preventable if employers, workers, and health professionals work together to reduce exposures.” Apparently, the small pieces of silica can be inhaled and trapped in lung tissue. To see the California label, and to learn more about silica, visit

Asbestos tremloite is a form of asbestos, and puts kids at risk of developing a lung cancer that is mostly caused by limited absestos exposure, and this risk can continue for decades. According to the Green Guide, and Philip Landrigan, M.D., director of the Center for Children’s Health and the Environment at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine, children breathe proportionally more air than adults, and they play close to the ground, thus increasing their exposure significantly. Think about kids playing in sandboxes, they literally sit in it, are constantly pouring and creating dust (and c’mon, they’re kids–many times, they are eating it!), therefore ingesting and breathing in these carcinogens.

It completely boggles my mind that this sand is being sold labeled and unalabeled, right now, all over the U.S. I think if parents knew about this most of them wouldn’t buy it.

So what to do? CHEC’s HealtheHouse shares some good tips for what to do. The kind of play sand that can have these two carcinogens is made from crushed rock, so look for river or beach sand, usually found at landscape and gardening stores. This is what I will be doing. Also, there is a company called Safe Sand that sells sand without tremoite and silica (but unfortunately it is expensive). In the very least, avoid very fine sand that gives off easily ingested dust.

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