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Thursday, June 25, 2009

Safe Outdoor Play

by Christopher Gavigan

Photo: Janelle Sorensen

After a long, cold winter, parents everywhere throw open the windows, soaking in the sunshine and spring temperatures, and utter the most thrilling four words in the parent lexicon: “Go outside and play!”

As you release your children out into nature (and out of your hair for an hour or two), bear in mind these few tips about keeping them safe and healthy as they tumble down grassy hills, bury themselves in sand, and get good and dirty!

Swim in clear waters. Beaches are a favorite summer destination, but the water at them can be polluted with chemicals, fecal matter, or other contaminants.

  • Look for the cleanest beaches. Pick a beach that is tested regularly for cleanliness and that notifies you when it is unsafe to go in the water. The Natural Resources Defense Council rates the top 100 beaches, but for smaller beaches you’ll need to do some hunting. Contact your local or state environmental protection office or public health agency. Oftentimes you can do an on-line search of your favorite beach’s name with the words “water quality” to find information.
  • Wait at least 24 hours after a heavy rainfall before swimming. Heavy rains can stir up polluted sediment and cause sewage systems to overflow into storm drains.
  • If possible, choose beaches that are away from urban areas or that have good water circulation.
  • Avoid swimming near storm drains.
  • Check out the surrounding environment. What’s adjacent to the water? Farmland or golf courses could mean high levels of pesticides are running off into the water. If there’s an industrial facility upstream, you could be swimming in their effluent.
  • Avoid getting water in your mouth.

Keep the bugs from bugging you. Nothing spoils a day outdoors like bug bites. And, some bugs can leave more than just an itchy red spot. Parents need to be aware of the risks of Lyme Disease, West Nile virus, and other infectious diseases – while also being aware of the risks of chemical repellents like DEET and permethrin.

  • Keep as much skin covered as possible by wearing lightweight fabrics.
  • Go indoors at dusk when mosquitoes come out to play.
  • Use the safest, least toxic repellent for your situation and read the label carefully. Wash off skin and change clothes after returning indoors.

Breathe easy. For millions of children with asthma or allergies, air quality is nothing to sneeze at. And, for every child’s developing lungs, you should schedule outdoor playtime at times when the air is clearest.

  • Check ozone and air particulate levels at You can also sign up for email alerts by entering your zip code.
  • Relax during peak heat. During the late afternoons of the hottest days are typically when air quality is worst. Avoid heavy exercise or anything that causes heavy breathing.
  • Warmer weather also means seasonal allergies. Check your local pollen levels at

Keep Off the Grass. Okay, not entirely, but be aware of yards and parks that may have recently been sprayed. Every year 90 million pounds of pesticides are showered on American lawns (between 7-10 times more pesticides than on food crops). The result is an immediately green lawn, but also long-term pollution of air, water and unknown potential impact on the health of our families.

  • Watch for signs. Most public spaces are required to post signage when they have sprayed pesticides, but private lots and homeowners are not always so communicative. Find out from your local Park and Rec when and what they spray (and encourage them to switch to IPM – to save money and protect health and the environment). When you’re on walks, keep kids on the sidewalk.
  • Kick off your shoes. When you get home, leave potential pesticide residue, lead dust, and dirt at the door by having everyone remove their shoes. If you can’t keep the shoes from crossing the threshold, have a straw mat and encourage everyone to do a thorough wiping.

This post originally appeared online at Cookie Magazine.

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Posted by: Christopher Gavigan at 9:00 am

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