Shoes lighted by toxic mercury are phased out

August 08, 1994|By Joseph Barrios | Joseph Barrios,Colorado Springs Gazette Telegraph

They're hot. They're flashy.

But the pair your kid has on his feet may also contain a material hazardous to the environment.

Tennis shoes that light up with each step are a big hit with the younger crowd -- little kids and teens who love the flash of red light as they pound the pavement.

But two older styles manufactured by one of the better-known tennis shoe companies, LA Gear, may contain the hazardous element mercury, which was used to activate the lights in its kids shoes.

The mercury isn't considered a health risk, because the amount is small and it's encapsulated. But it has been considered an environmental risk because of the possibility that the shoes will eventually pile up in a landfill.

The state of Minnesota banned sales and distribution of LA Gear's My Li'l Lights and LA Lights shoes because they contained mercury, which is illegal to throw away.

Mercury can harm the human central nervous system, affecting body movement and senses of touch, taste and sight. Human fetuses and pregnant women are more sensitive to mercury than other adults. Mercury can contaminate water supplies and becomes volatile when burned.

The company paid the state $70,000 earlier this month to help recycle the shoes.

LA Gear has taken steps to eliminate the problem. It has taken all of its mercury shoes off the shelves nationwide and has, during the past month, replaced them with versions that use ball bearings instead of mercury to activate the light.

LA Gear has also set up a toll-free number, which consumers can call for postage-free mailers to send the sneakers back to the company for recycling. LA Gear pays for all the shipping, and any of the mercury-free shoes are then donated to charity if still usable.

So how do you know if your kids are wearing shoes with mercury? There is no sure way to tell, says the manufacturer.

The best thing to do, says LA Gear, is call the toll-free number for information and a mailer.

LA Gear, the only manufacturer to use mercury for its light-up shoes, was quick to fix the problem because so many kids like the shoes.

Despite all the press about the mercury, sales of light-up shoes have not been affected.

For more information or a recycling mailer, call LA Gear at (800) 786-7820.

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