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    Inexpensive laser pointers a threat to eyesight

    Some laser pointers available for less than €20 exceed the legal limits on their power by as much as 127 fold, according to Australian researchers. They have called on regulators to consider a ban on green laser pointers.

    Some laser pointers available for less than €20 exceed the legal limits on their power by as much as 127 fold, according to Australian researchers. They have called on regulators to consider a ban on green laser pointers.

    Researchers at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, found that green lasers were particularly dangerous, with all four models tested exceeding the European and Australian safety limit of 1 mW for lasers emitting a visible beam.

    “All the green laser pointers we tested were from 51 to 127 times over the 1 mW government safety limit,” said Kate Fox, a senior lecturer in RMIT's School of Engineering. “At that upper level, the beam would cause catastrophic retinal damage.”

    The study comes on the heels of a call by airline pilots in the UK to classify the pointers as offensive weapons.

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    On February 15, a Virgin Atlantic flight bound for New York returned to London’s Heathrow Airport after the pilot reported being harmed by a laser shone from the ground.

    “We repeat our call to the Government to classify lasers as offensive weapons which would give the police more power to arrest people for possessing them if they had no good reason to have them,” said Jim McAusian, general secretary of the British Airline Pilots Association. “This incident shows why this is becoming more-and-more urgent.”

    Anyone, including children, can buy such laser pointers over the counter or online, said Fox.

    Working with RMIT ophthalmologist Marc Sarossy and Alfred Hospital physician Matthew Hao Lee, Fox tested four models of green laser pointer and four models of red.

    Sarossy said three of the four red models were within safety limits. "There can still be some risk, but our normal response to visible light is to blink and turn away—and that's usually enough to avoid any permanent damage.”

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    Green lasers produce more infrared radiation, which does not trigger a blink and aversion response, and they also produce a more focused spot, he said.

    Imported laser pointers were poorly made, with manufacturers sometimes leaving out infrared-blocking filters to hold down costs, the researchers said.

    The Australian team presented its research at the IEEE Engineers in Medicine and Biology Society conference in Orlando, FL, on August 18.

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