There's not a lot cuter than watching your toddler build castles in a sandbox with her toy shovel and pail. Sandboxes provide her with a safe space to have fun and use her creativity -- or so you thought. It may surprise you that this seemingly innocent piece of play equipment could be fraught with possible danger. Although it's unlikely your toddler will find buried plutonium or the body of Jimmy Hoffa while digging in a sandbox, there are some safety issues to consider.
1. Toxic Sand
While your toddler is busy building sand castles, she could be exposed to possible cancer-causing agents. The sand used in many sandboxes isn't always from pristine beaches, but is created from crushed rocks that are carcinogens. Crystalline silica is often found in sandboxes and can cause lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and the lung disease silicosis. Play sand can also contain tremolite, a form of asbestos, that causes malignant mesothelioma, which is a deadly form of lung cancer. Children who play in sandboxes are particularly at risk, because they're in close proximity to toxic, airborne particles that the sand kicks up.
If the possibiilty of toxic sand isn't worrisome enough, you should also be concerned about the construction of the box. Arsenic-treated wood is often found in outdoor furniture such as sandboxes, because the chemical process used protects the wood from rotting. Even at low levels, arsenic can cause nerve damage, cancer, diabetes, hormone disruption, high blood pressure and heart disease. Children will often stick their hands inside their mouths while playing in a sandbox and may consume arsenic as a result.
3. Bacteria and Viruses
Even if you manage to locate a sandbox that doesn't contain carcinogenic sand or arsenic-treated wood, your little one isn't out of the woods just yet. Microbiologists from the National Sanitation Foundation discovered that playground sandboxes contained the highest levels of bacterial contamination out of 26 different public areas that they tested. Bacteria and viruses easily find a home in sandboxes through animals doing their business in the soft sand to infected children playing in close proximity with each other, often leaving behind their saliva or other body fluids. Even a minor scrape on your little's knee can provide an entryway for harmful organisms to enter her body in a contaminated sandbox.
4. Safe Sandboxes
Use caution when using public sandboxes. Call your local park, preschool or child care facility and ask where they obtained their sand. If they're unable to provide you with that information, consider building your own sandbox. Keep your sandbox covered when it's not in use to prevent animals and insects from entering. If your sandbox is particularly old, you can reduce possible arsenic leeching by sealing the wood with a semi-transparent or solid stain. Keep all scrapes and cuts on your toddler covered with bandages. Purchase beach sand that doesn't contain any carcinogenic dust.
- State University of New York: Case 7: Tremolite Asbestos Fibers in Children's Play Sand
- Good Housekeeping: Sandbox Safety Tips for Children
- Alliance for Healthy Homes: Arsenic-Treated Wood
- Mesothelioma: Death in the Sandbox
- Healthy Child Healthy World: Is Some Sand Safer Than Others?
- Kid Source: What's Lurking in the Sandbox?
- National Sanitation Foundation: Where Germs are Lurking
- Environmental Protection Agency: Levels of Trace Metals and Sequential Extraction of Arsenic in Topsoil and Sand From Sandboxes at Playgrounds in Oslo, Norway
- Healthy School Networks: Playgrounds & Toxic Threats
- Occupational Health & Safety Administration: Silica, Crystalline
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