With warmer weather upon us, parents everywhere are gleefully instructing their kids to “go outside and play!” As kids bound into backyards, playgrounds, and nature in general, bear in mind these few tips to keep them safe and healthy.
Swim in clear waters
Beaches are a favorite summer destination, but the water 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. Often, you can search online using 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 and check out the surrounding environment. What's adjacent to the water? Farmland or golf courses could mean that large amounts of pesticides are running off into the water. If there's an industrial facility upstream, you could be swimming in their effluent.
- Avoid swimming near storm drains, and try not to drink the water!
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 as possible covered 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. Ecosmart offers a host of safe, effective nontoxic products.
Breathe easyFor millions of children with asthma or allergies, air quality is nothing to sneeze at. 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 AirNow, and sign up for e-mail alerts for your zip code.
- Relax during peak heat. Late afternoon on the hottest days is 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 Pollen.com.
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 pesticide are showered on U.S. lawns (between seven and ten times more pesticide than is used on food crops). The result is a green lawn, but also the pollution of air and water — and the long-term impact on the health of our families is unknown.
- Watch for signs. Signage is required in most public spaces that have been sprayed with pesticides, but private lots and homeowners are not usually so communicative. Find out from your local department of parks and recreation when and what they spray (and encourage them to switch to IPM — to save money and protect people's health and the environment). When you're on walks, keep your 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.