Why Does Play Sand Have a Cancer Warning?

Sandbox photo by FourTwentyTwo
from Flickr Creative Commons

With arsenic in brown rice and radioactive tissue box holders already making headlines, you now get to worry about… wait for it…


John and Sherry over at the fabulous Young House Love recently built a lovely sandbox for their little girl and filled it with sand, only to discover an ominous warning on the sand bags about the silica in the sand potentially causing cancer. Yes, common play sand carries one of those those “Warning in the State of California” labels (like the ones on your Christmas lights). This is because California is either a) is full of crazy hippies or b) actually protects its consumers… I can’t decide.

Isn’t silica, like, in beach sand? Well, yes, but… apparently all that dust in the newer, manufactured play sand may be unhealthy. At least that’s the best I could glean from YHL, OSHA, the (albeit biased) Safe Sand website, and a bunch of crazy moms (like me) online. I really wanted to find an official EPA statement about this specific issue, but it didn’t happen… The OSHA information is not specifically about play sand and the EPA link on the Safe Sand website is dead.

I felt for John and Sherry, I really did, because this is totally the sort of thing that would happen to me. I’d be standing there, 200 lbs of sand unloaded before me, staring at a warning label, wondering just how dangerous this stuff is for my kid. I would think “aw, screw it, it’s fine” and then I’d panic, change my mind, and be hauling sand like a crazy person out of my kid’s sandbox. (They replaced their sand with pea gravel).

I saw cheap “natural” play sand at Home Depot, and that looks like a good option, but that, too, had the warning. I would assume that’s safer, though? …Now that it’s time to refill our sandbox, I’ll either buy that or spend an arm and a leg buying Safe Sand from California. Tempest in a teapot? Probably. But it’s hard to let your kid play in something that says “cancer” right on the bag.

7 responses

  1. I don’t believe anything is safe anymore! There’s likely something in the pea gravel too. When all the BPA and plastics fuss came out, I nearly had a stroke. I had used some of the very bottles for my kids that were deemed unsafe. And in the middle of the night to speed things up, I even microwaved them for 10 seconds or warmed them in boiling water. Double whammy. All those chemicals that leached in. We’re exposed to junk every day that we don’t realize. I guess I shouldn’t move to California. The stress of the labels would wear me out.

  2. I know sand naturally contains lead. That may be the reason for the warning on the natural sand. You might want to look into in further. I wish these labels were more specific, so you knew exactly what chemicals/contaminants are in the product.

  3. I believe the reason for the warning is that silica dust can cause cancer, but this is primarily a hazard for the miners, not consumers. Unless your child is operating a pulverizer in her sandbox, she is unlikely to produce harmful clouds of silica dust. That being said, the CDC recommends using water to prevent dust in extraction processes. It makes sense that if the sand is occasionally misted dust shouldn’t be a big issue. And btw, isn’t pea gravel made of quartz just like sand? ;)

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