Sandbox play provides toddlers with opportunities for social interaction, sensory development, motor skills development and pretend play. Although the benefits of playing in the sand are many, putting your toddler in a sandbox comes with potential health and safety hazards. Once you're aware of the risks, you can take steps to provide a safe play experience for your child.
It’s important to cover a sandbox when your toddler isn’t playing. Otherwise, cats and other animals roaming the outdoors could use it as a litter box. Toxoplasmosis, a parasite in cat feces, can spread to your child if he comes in contact with the feces. Although a healthy child may experience no symptoms of infection, KidsHealth.org reports that the parasite remains in the body for life in a dormant stage. The infection can reactivate later on if the immune system becomes compromised. Toxoplasmosis can lead to death in a child whose immune system is severely weakened by AIDS or cancer treatment.
Breathing in dust from crystalline silica sand can be harmful to your child’s health. Quikrete Cement and Concrete Products notes that Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations consider crystalline silica made from crushed quartz a health hazard. Breathing in particles of silica found in the sand’s dust could eventually cause silicosis or other respiratory diseases, autoimmune disorders or chronic kidney diseases. Inhaling the carcinogen also can lead to lung cancer or increase the risk of tuberculosis. Quikrete recommends keeping play sand damp to reduce the potential health hazards from airborne dust. However, wet sand is a breeding ground for bacteria, so let the sand dry before covering the sandbox.
Amount of Exposure
A 2009 article in the "Richmond Times-Dispatch" reports that while crystalline silica dust is regulated in industrial settings because of the hazards of breathing it in, most health warnings relate to repeated, long-term exposure. At the time of publication, there had been no known cases of children getting lung cancer from playing in sand. Parents should pay attention to the warning labels on the bags of sand, as any exposure to toxic substances poses potential risks. Buying coarser sand may be a safer alternative than finer-grain sands, which are easier to inhale. Another option is to buy silica-free play sand instead of all-purpose sand. Some parents put pea gravel in sandboxes, but that, too, comes with risks. Pea gravel can be a choking hazard and is not recommended for play areas used by children under age 3.
Children playing in sand often are tempted to throw it, getting into their eyes or those of a playmate. Supervising young children during sand play can help prevent these kinds of mishaps. Toddlers require extra supervision, as many try to eat sand, which can contain toxic substances. Also, washing your toddler’s hands before and after he plays in the sand helps prevent the spread of infection. The 2003 June/July issue of "Healthy Child Care" recommends replacing play sand at least once every two years or whenever it becomes contaminated. Play sand -- which is screened, washed and sterilized -- is light tan in color.