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New Zealand: Youth injury leads to calls for restrictions

An 11-year-old New Zealand boy has lost sharpness in his right eye, after playing with a 200 mW laser in his bedroom. The beam reflected from a mirror back into his eye, causing what the boy described as a “fuzzy blob”. Retinal specialist Dr. Dianne Sharp says the boy has a 1.5mm retinal scar that has “slightly compromised” his vision in the right eye by “reducing the reading level on the eye-testing chart by three print sizes.” His overall vision was not greatly affected, according to Dr. Sharp.

Dr. Sharp and the boy’s mother both called for restrictions on laser pointers in New Zealand. The boy’s laser was purchased in Thailand for $15 while on a family holiday in January 2011. The date of the laser injury is not known.
The boy’s mother was aware her 11-year-old was playing with the 200 mW laser. She said that while she knew about the risk of direct eye exposure, she was unaware of the risk if the beam was reflected in a mirror.

The mother also criticized the laser’s safety label, saying that the wording “Danger, laser radiation, avoid direct eye exposure” was printed too small to read. It is not known if the safety label also had a large red “DANGER” logotype as is required by law.

class 3b label
Type and size of a typical small laser pointer label. It is not known if the New Zealand laser pointer used a label like this, or a text-only label without the red DANGER logotype.

In an editorial, the New Zealand Herald wrote that “there is no reason high-powered laser pointers should be freely available.” This was based both on the boy’s injury, and on 17 aircraft illuminations from January to August 2011.

From Otago Daily Times and the New Zealand Herald (news story; editorial)

1About the label: Shown above is a Class 3R label for lasers below 5 mW. The required wording is “Avoid direct eye exposure”. This is the same as what the New Zealand mother reported was on her son’s laser. If so, then the label was incorrect for a 200 mW laser. However, the correct wording for a Class 3B laser is very similar: “Avoid direct exposure to beam”. Both labels should have had a large red DANGER logotype, the only difference is the words “to beam” on the Class 3B label.

UPDATE, August 22 2011: Dr. Dianne Sharp clarified some points for LaserPointerSafety.com:

1) Dr. Sharp has not seen the actual laser. She said the mother read the “very small” label with the help of a magnifying glass. It read: “Danger: laser radiation. Avoid direct eye exposure. Maximum output 200mW. Wavelength 523nm +/-2. class 3 laser (complies with 21 CFR).” Dr. Sharp did not mention a red “DANGER” logotype, one way or the other.

2) The laser’s output power has not been verified. The 200 mW figure comes from the label. Dr. Sharp says the damage suggests Class 3B with retinal damage confirmed on Optical Coherence Tomography.

3) The injury occurred one month prior to Dr. Sharp’s examination of the boy.

4) The boy’s vision will be followed up by a local ophthalmologist. Currently, he reports “some improvement, although still aware of a spot in his vision.”

5) There was some (unspecified) treatment done. The damage was in a linear pattern.

6) The injury was not due to deliberate staring or aiming of the reflection. It was an accident while playing with the laser. The boy shone the laser into a mirror and was not aware of the danger of mirrors and laser light.

More details about the label: If the wording is exactly as stated by Dr. Sharp, the label has at least four mistakes or deviations from U.S.-required labeling:

  • The wavelength of green lasers is usually 532 nanometers, not “523”
  • The class should be either 3R or 3B; there is no “class 3” alone.
  • The warning text for a 200 mW Class 3B laser should be “Avoid direct exposure to beam”, instead of “Avoid direct eye exposure.”
  • The reference at the end should be “Complies with 21 CFR 1040.10 and 1040.11”, not just “complies with 21 CFR”.