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Um, Yeah, Your Kid's Sandbox Might Be a Hotbed of Toxins & Health Hazards

Michelle Maffei is a freelance copywriter covering a variety of topics both online and in print, from parenting to beauty and more. Combining her two favorite loves, writing and motherhood, she has found joy in even the most challenging ...

Letting your child play in a sandbox seems innocent, but it can actually make them really sick

There's just something so innocent about a little kid playing in a sandbox. I mean, there's nothing sweeter than a tiny human who needs nothing more than some sand and a plastic bucket to be happy, right? It's hard to imagine that this simple form of entertainment could be hazardous to a child's health — but the truth of the matter is, if they're playing in store-bought sand, they might be exposed to some serious toxins.

What you may not know about your play sand

Disturbing facts are surfacing about dangerous, cancer-causing hazards hiding in the sand that keeps kiddos entertained. Before you plop down your youngster into this soft stuff, dig up the truth about sandbox sand: is yours safe?

More: Drugs Your Kids Know About — & You Should Too

Uncover the toxins in sandbox sand

When purchasing a bag of sandbox sand, you may just be exposing your kid to toxic ingredients, namely microcrystalline silica. Commonly, playground sand is made from quartz rock, which is why many of these bags-o-fun are slapped with a Proposition 65 label warning of the health hazard contained within. But how does a romp in play sand come with serious health consequences for your youngster?

Recognize the health hazards

As any parent can attest, sandbox sand is dusty and dirty. Unfortunately, "as children play, sand becomes airborne and inhaled," explains Nick Cicone, of Kid Safe Sand. When these tiny particles of silica lurking in sandbox sand enter your youngster's lungs, the results can equal serious health hazards for your little one.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), breathing in the tiny carcinogen can lead to silicosis, an irreversible disease, as well as lung cancer, airway diseases and pulmonary tuberculosis. Exposure to these compounds may also be related to the development of chronic renal disease, development of autoimmune disorders and also have other bad health outcomes. And, although no studies have been conducted specifically relating to children's play spaces, the Environmental Protection Agency warns that exposure to silica is bad news, regardless of the source.

More: Terrifyingly Tiny Seed Ticks: Will You Spot Them This Summer?

The good news is it's preventable.

Discover safe sandbox sand

The most important — and easiest — way to shield your little ones from toxic sandbox sand is to opt for safe sandbox sand or other play sand alternative. "A safe sandbox is all about sand not containing health hazards such as microcrystalline silica," explains Cicone. "Silica-free sand contains no known hazardous substances," making it a safe sandbox option for your child to dive in and get dirty with.

When using safe sandbox alternatives to traditional play sand outdoors, be mindful of materials that are designed to absorb moisture, as they will eventually mildew and need replacing.


Dangerous sandbox sand and silica-free sand are not the only options for your child's sandbox.

Other safe sandbox options include:

  • Pea gravel
  • Crushed walnuts from pet store
  • Rice
  • Dried beans and legumes
  • Cornmeal
  • Flaxseed from horse and feed store
  • Fish tank rocks from pet store
  • Rubber mulch made from recycled tire chips
  • Mini corncob from pet store

Despite the truth about sandbox sand, when you can't afford to replace the play sand you already have with silica-free sandbox sand right away, it can still be made safer by keeping materials damp and minimizing the dust. Just remember to keep your sandbox covered when your kids aren't at play; cats and other outdoor critters may see this play space as a litter box and expose your children to toxoplasmosis, a parasite contained in cat feces.

By taking a few precautionary steps, you can focus less on the hidden dangers and more on how you’re going to get your kids to keep the sand in the box.

Letting your child play in a sandbox seems innocent, but it can actually make them really sick
Image: Terese Condella/SheKnows;Image via Getty Images

Updated by Sarah Long on 5/16/17.

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