Lewis Carroll's Mad Hatter: Image Courtesy of Corrosion-Doctors.orgIf you are not a parent or observant of children's shoes, you may not realize that many of the shoes marketed for children light up when they take a step. These shoes range from sandals to tennis shoes, and many adults and children think they are very cool. Light-up shoes are popular and inexpensive in our mainstream culture, but the batteries in these shoes pose a risk to our environment and children's health.
Before 1980, most household batteries contained mercury. By using alternative materials, such as silver oxide, most batteries are now mercury-free; however, watch style, small, "button" shaped batteries still contain mercury. These types of batteries are found in light up children's shoes. Although some websites claim that children's light up shoes have been mercury free since 1997, a 2006 report from the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services states, "Mercury is found in items such as thermometers, switches, thermostats, light-shoes, jewelry, some batteries, and fluorescent lights." In fact, it is the mercury tilt switch that may have been eliminated and not the battery.
The Snohomish County PUD Do These Shoes Contain Mercury? provides a brief history of light up shoes:
Light-up shoes were originally made with mercury tilt switches. Mercury created a very reliable switch but so many shoes were ending up in the landfill that the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) banned mercury as a switch…Today, some shoes have motion-activated lighting modules that feature a red brake light when the walker is in the process of coming to a complete stop. Some have removable and interchangeable light-emitting diode (LED) cartridges. Some designs have replaceable batteries.
IndustryWatch.org implies children's shoes still contain mercury:
The future of light-up shoes is on the rocks" in an article posted June 26, 2007 about mercury reduction legislation. Many states, like an Ohio ban that begins in April 2008, have outlawed mercury in consumer products such as footwear, toys, games, greeting cards, holiday ornaments, candles, etc. " Compliance deadlines have been extended in many states for consumer products whose only mercury is in the button-cell battery required to operate them, because the battery industry has imposed its own deadline of 2011 for eliminating the mercury those contain.
According to the director of the Mercury Policy Project Michael Bender, many states have eliminated products such as light-up shoes, whicch have disappeared from shelves as manufacturers work on mercury-free replacements.
Remember the Mad Hatter from Lewis Carroll's Alice and Wonderland? The term "mad as a hatter" refers to the mercury poisoning hat makers experienced up until a ban in the 1940s. Hat makers experienced nervous disorders, mental illness, odd behavior, quarter size holes in their brains, and death as a result of their mercury exposure. High levels of mercury still exists in rivers and soil around hat making facilities on the east coast. Mercury is a potent neurotoxin that enters the food chain through contaminated water. In children, the effects of mercury exposure can cause developmental delays, learning disabilities, attention problems, kidney damage, and problems with their nervous and digestive systems. Mercury does occur naturally in rocks and minerals, such as cinnabar; however, burning coal, natural gas, and oil are major contributers to acid rain and mercury in our food chain, especially fish. Lewis Carroll's Mad Hatter first appeared in 1865, yet we have still not eliminated unnecessary mercury exposure from our environment.
In California, it is illegal to throw any household items containing mercury into a trash can, yet most parents do not realize their children's shoes might contain mercury. These shoes need to be disposed of properly at a hazardous waste facility. Even if your child's light up shoes do not contain mercury, the batteries inside the shoes deserve proper disposal. The best solution is to avoid these products all together, as do we really need to waste energy on light up shoes?