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Is Sand Dangerous for a Toddler to Eat?

by Sara Ipatenco, studioD

Toddlers tend to put everything they touch into their mouths because it's one of the ways they explore the world around them. This is fine if your toddler is trying new foods or mouthing toys. However, toddlers have an unfortunate tendency to put undesirable items in their mouths, too. If your toddler regularly plays in a backyard sandbox, a sandbox at the playground or at the beach, you should monitor him closely to ensure that he isn't eating his weight in sand. Play sand itself probably won't hurt him, but certain types of sand can be contaminated and could make your toddler sick.

Contaminated Sand

Normal uncontaminated sand is only likely to irritate your child's mouth and taste bad, but there's no way to know if the sand is contaminated or not. In fact, sand can be contaminated with a range of diseases that you won't know about until your toddler eats some and gets sick. Toxoplasmosis is a common parasite that can be spread to your child's sandbox or the playground if an infected cat uses the sand as its litter box. According to MayoClinic.com, many people don't get symptoms and don't require treatment, but the parasite can cause flu-like symptoms such as body aches, headache, fever and fatigue. A sandbox might also be contaminated with E.coli when an infected animal defecates in the sand. Parasites such as cutaneous larva migrans can cause rashes and skin lesions if they're ingested with the sand.

Sand Made With Certain Materials

While sandbox and playground sand are generally made with nontoxic materials, other types of sand might use ingredients that can be harmful if swallowed. According to the HealthyChildren.org website, your child shouldn't play in sand made with crushed limestone, marble, crystalline silica or materials that kick up a lot of dust when your child plays. These can cause respiratory problems when your child inhales them, and they can also cause irritation in the respiratory tract and stomach when they're swallowed. Avoid sand that contains tremolite asbestos, as well, recommends HealthyChildren.org. If your child is exposed to tremolite asbestos, it increases her lifetime risk of lung cancer, malignant mesothelioma and serious respiratory dysfunctions, according to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. Finer sand is more likely to contain tremolite asbestos, so if you're concerned, go for coarser play sand.

What's Safe

According to HealthyChildren.org, choose sand that's labeled as natural river sand or beach sand. These are natural forms of sand and are less likely to contain dangerous materials. Typically, sand that's labeled as play sand is also safe for children, but be sure to read the ingredient label before letting your child play in it. Most cities follow these same guidelines when placing sand in playgrounds, but check with your city government offices if you're concerned. Monitor your toddler even when you use safe sand. Eating sand isn't a good idea even if it doesn't end up causing any problems.

Keeping Sand Safe

You can take steps to keep your toddler safe when she's playing in the sand. Always keep your backyard sandbox covered to prevent cats and other animals from defecating in it. Use a sturdy plastic tarp or purchase a sandbox with a tight-fitting lid. Inspect playground sand to see if there's any visible animal feces, trash or other dangerous objects before allowing your toddler to play in the sand. Since public playgrounds don't always cover their sandboxes, it's probably best to skip them, according to the AskDr.Sears website, particularly if your toddler tends to put sand in her mouth.

About the Author

Sara Ipatenco has taught writing, health and nutrition. She started writing in 2007 and has been published in Teaching Tolerance magazine. Ipatenco holds a bachelor's degree and a master's degree in education, both from the University of Denver.

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