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Alternatives for sandbox sand?

Here's a good question from Erin:

This seems like a EnviroMom question, and I apologize if you've covered it already...is there an alternative to sand for sandbox play?  I've heard of some health hazards with specifically Home Depot play sand, not to mention the mess of sand everywhere!  I think I've heard of using walnut shells but I'm unsure of where to find them or the cost.  Is there anything else that would be environmentally friendly? 

Oh and I should ask too, once the sand/shells/etc have been thoroughly abused, how do I best dispose of them?

According to National Geographic's Green Guide, some sandbox sand may contain tremolite, which is a form of asbestos, or crystalline silica, which is another human carcinogen. Another hazard comes from animals that might spend a little time in the sandbox and spread E. coli to tots with open wounds or those who like to eat sand. Some days I yearn for the innocence of my 70s childhood when we could play in all of these toxins with abandon.

So what's an EnviroMom to do? Not having a sandbox is an option, but boo hiss, not much fun. The Safe Sand Company sells asbestos and silica-free sand ($60 for 50 pounds). Here in Portland you can get natural sand, free of silica, from Oregon Decorative Rock. Pet stores carry crushed walnut shells, and I think it's pretty inexpensive. At my children's preschool, the indoor sand table is filled with everything from rice to dried beans and legumes to cornmeal (the latter of which is kind of messy) but I imagine those things would attract wormy bugs and critters outdoors. Other suggestions?


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