Center for Environmental HealthThese baseball uniform belts contained unlawful levels of lead.
Little League baseball uniform belts sold at several retailers have high levels of lead, according to independent lab tests commissioned by an environmental watchdog group.
The four brightly colored belts contained as much as 8.5 percent lead, more than 280 times the legal limit. The Center for Environmental Health purchased the belts from West Coast Shoes and Sporting Goods, Walmart, Sports Authority and Dick's Sporting Goods stores in the Bay Area. (For a list of the belts, see page 3 of the notice of violation.)
"Parents outfitting their children for Little League should know that some uniform belts may pose a lead hazard," Caroline Cox, research director at the center, said in a statement. "There is no crying in baseball, and there shouldn't be any lead either."
Lead is a neurotoxin. Long-term and high exposure can damage the nervous system, brain, kidneys and reproductive system. Children, who risk hand-to-mouth exposure when putting on, taking off or touching the belts, are particularly vulnerable to lead.
The center announced the violations March 31, on Major League Baseball's opening day. In legal notices, the center says it will file lawsuits against the retailers unless they recall the belts they've sold, put lead warnings on the products or reformulate them to eliminate lead exposure and pay a civil penalty.
Though the center has tested many adult and kids belts in the past, last week's violations marked the first time the group focused on Little League uniform belts. The issue may be a first for many in the sporting goods industry as well.
"I've never heard of it in the industry. Period," said Larry Fingerut of West Coast Shoes and Sporting Goods. Fingerut helps out at the San Leandro-based store, of which his son, Jeffrey, is CEO.
The center cited West Coast Shoes and Sporting Goods for carrying an orange UBY Youth Baseball Belt that contained 8.5 percent lead on its surface. Fingerut said the number sold was "minimal," as most Little League players buy belts in navy, blue or black. A few are probably still in stock, he said.
"We'll take it off the shelf," he said. "We would pack up every belt and send it back to the factory."
Under the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, domestic manufacturers and importers are responsible for ensuring that children's products meet federal lead standards. They must include certification of lead testing when importing or distributing products. But no one, including retailers, may sell items with excess lead.
The store orders belts from vendors of two manufacturers, Champion and Adams; a large portion of the sporting goods industry does too, he said. The notice of violation does not name Champion or Adams.
"If it affects us ... then everybody in the industry would be affected, I'm sure," he said.
The Center for Environmental Health is continuing to test baseball uniform belts for lead. Contact the center for more information on free lead screening.