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.

What’s Wrong with Betty Draper Francis?

Betty has had a thyroid biopsy, but the Bandaid looks a little high, no?

Well, we just got around to watching Mad Men on our DVR. Poor rotund, melancholic Betty! Early in the episode, she goes to her doctor seeking diet pills. The doctor palpates her neck and feels something. Betty tells Don it’s a “node” or a “nodule:” looks like Betty has a thyroid nodule! Luckily, (SPOILER) a biopsy reveals it is not cancerous. Could it be that Betty,  having nodules and weight gain, is having a hypothyroid turn of Hashimoto’s thyroiditis? I don’t think the TSH test was invented until after the time of Mad Men–so I wonder if they just diagnosed on symptoms alone? …Betty’s eating habits, however, suggest that her weight change may not be her thyroid, and that she may just be overindulging. Ice cream sundaes–I feel you, girl! …Here’s hoping this death scare makes Betty more empathetic toward those around her.

New Wonder Drug… Aspirin?

Aspirin has long been used as an analgesic and fever reducer, and its anti-platelet effect is utilized to help fight against ischemic stroke and heart attack. Now, recently published studies are examining the role of aspirin in cancer prevention–and the results were promising overall, especially for the prevention of colon cancer. The risk of prostate, lung, breast, and esophageal cancers may also be reduced by taking daily aspirin.

My interest in aspirin was first piqued when I heard of some epidemiological data coming out of Nurse’s Health Study data. These new randomized, controlled trials are even more encouraging.  If aspirin were to prevent cancer as well as heart disease, what’s not to love? …Well, like any medication, aspirin poses its own risks. Bleeding can be a very serious complication, and the  risk of GI bleed or hemorrhagic stroke may temper benefits of cancer prevention. (Aspirin is also toxic in large doses, and may have even been a contributing factor in the high death toll of the 1918 “Spanish” Flu).

At this moment, experts are cautious to state that the risk-to-benefit ratio has not been established for general use. In other words, no need to clear your local drugstore of all of their Bayer. I, for one, am still heartened by this promising news. I have a family tree riddled with early-onset cancer and heart disease.  I am about one funeral away from trying anything, so eager am I to have any added control over my medical destiny… but I won’t be popping any new pills just yet. I’ll have to wait until I stop breastfeeding, and then I’ll talk to my doctor about risks versus benefits. In the meantime, perhaps we should all work harder on that diet and exercise stuff. Oh boo.

Read more media buzz about aspirin and cancer prevention at The Chicago Tribune, The New York Times Well Blog, and the Harvard Health Blog.