Technology & Science

Kellogg's to drop mercury-battery toys after Spider-Man promotion

Cereal maker says it will no longer use mercury batteries in its promotional toys after 3 states ban the items for environmental reasons.

Cereal maker Kellogg Co. will no longer use mercury batteries in its promotional items, the company announced Thursday.

On Monday, New York state signed a law banning novelty items powered by mercury batteries, citing environmental concerns.

The button-cell batteries are like those found in toys, watches, remote control devices and hearing aids.

Kellogg's wristwatch-shaped "Spidey-Signal" toy uses a mercury-powered battery to project a web-shaped light. The toy had also been recalled in Connecticut and New Hampshire, which require a warning about disposing of the batteries.

The cereal maker said the toys meet or exceed all North American toy safety standards and do not compromise the quality of the food.

General Mills has a similar toy to promote the movie Shrek 2.

Health Canada said the promotional toys meet all Canadian health and safety standards.

Some say the problem is the novelty toys are highly disposable.

Mercury accumulates in fish, causing neurological damage in humans. Health Canada guidelines say pregnant women and young children should not eat predatory fish such as shark, swordfish, and fresh and frozen tuna more than once per month.

"It's designed to last about 10 minutes," said environmentalist Elizabeth May of the Sierra Club of Canada in Ottawa. "It's not identified in any way that a parent would know that I must take responsibility for this, and make sure it doesn't just go in the trash."

Canada does not have any standards on allowable levels of mercury in batteries. For years, Canadian battery manufacturers have voluntarily followed U.S. regulations.

The long-term damage may happen once batteries are thrown out, according to Luc Tripp, a chemist with the Commission for Environmental Co-operation in Montreal.

"The mercury would be released when batteries get incinerated or when they enter a landfill," said Tripp. "Over a period of time, that mercury would add to the global budget of mercury that we at the Commission for Environmental Co-operation have been trying to reduce."

Kellogg's does not plan on recalling the toy but it will cover the tab for returning them by mail.