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Canada: Looking at "all possible options" to fight laser incidents; perhaps a ban and mandatory labels

Minister Marc Garneau announced February 15 2018 that Transport Canada will explore “all possible options” to reduce the number of laser pointer/aircraft incidents, and will announce measures “in the coming weeks.”

The statement came after six laser incidents over two days earlier in the month, at Montreal’s Trudeau Airport. Garneau said these made him “very, very mad.”

A Transport official said the options include a ban on importation of powerful lasers, mandatory warning labels, and stronger penalties for those who are caught.

Garneau noted that it is hard to catch a laser perpetrator, making prosecutions “few and far between”. He believes that some people are not aware of the bright-light danger of laser light, but that others “know darn well what they’re doing” and are trying to “provoke something.”

Transport Canada currently has a program called “Not-a-Bright-Idea,” trying to educate the general public about the risks and legal consequences of aiming lasers at aircraft. Since implementing the program in May 2016, laser incident numbers have dropped. There were 590 reported incidents in 2015, 527 in 2016, and 379 in 2017.

Garneau said that despite the 28 percent drop, Transport Canada must do more, and that is why they are exploring other options.

From 660 News and AVweb

Note: In response to a LaserPointerSafety.com request, an email address for interested persons was provided: “Transport Canada is exploring options to reduce laser strikes. Canadians and industry members can provide information to the Civil Aviation Communications Centre by emailing: services@tc.gc.ca

Germany: Scientific study of laser pointer eye injuries finds 111 cases

The following abstract is from “Retinal Injury Following Laser Pointer Exposure: A Systematic Review and Case Series”, by Birtel et. al., in Deutsches Aerzteblatt International 2017; 114(49). The entire paper is worth reading for anyone interested in laser pointer injury numbers, causes, severity and treatment.

Background: Recent years have seen a marked increase in laser-pointer-related injuries, which sometimes involve severe retinal damage and irreversible visual impairment. These injuries are often caused by untested or incorrectly classified devices that are freely available over the Internet.

Methods: We reviewed pertinent publications retrieved by a systematic search in the PubMed and Web of Science databases and present our own series of clinical cases.

Results: We identified 48 publications describing a total of 111 patients in whom both acute and permanent damage due to laser pointers was documented. The spectrum of damage ranged from focal photoreceptor defects to macular foramina and retinal hemorrhages associated with loss of visual acuity and central scotoma. On initial presentation, the best corrected visual acuity (BCVA) was less than 20/40 (Snellen equivalent) in 55% of the affected eyes and 20/20 or better in 9% of the affected eyes. Treatment options after laser-pointer-induced ocular trauma are limited. Macular foramina and extensive hemorrhages can be treated surgically. In our series of 7 cases, we documented impaired visual acuity, central visual field defects, circumscribed and sometimes complex changes of retinal reflectivity, and intraretinal fluid. Over time, visual acuity tended to improve, and scotoma subjectively decreased in size.

Conclusion: Laser pointers can cause persistent retinal damage and visual impairment. In view of the practically unimpeded access to laser pointers (even high-performance ones) over the Internet, society at large now needs to be more aware of the danger posed by these devices, particularly to children and adolescents.

From Birtel J, Harmening WM, Krohne TU, Holz FG, Charbel Issa P, Herrmann P. Retinal injury following laser pointer exposure—a systematic review and case series. Dtsch Arztebl Int, 2017 DOI: 10.3238/arztebl.2017.0831. Original in German, translation in English.

US: High-powered lasers can be obtained from inside a Christmas holiday laser projector

A hacker opened a three-color Christmas/holiday laser “star shower” type projector, to find high-powered blue and green laser diodes inside.

In a January 22 2018 Hackaday post, Tom Nardi purchased a “Home Accents Holiday Multi-Color Light Projector” from a hardware chain on clearance, marked down from $56 to just $14.

He removed the cover with four screws and found the parts inside used connectors instead of solder: “It’s like they wanted us to strip it for parts.”

The lasers were defocused inside. “…[A]t 3 meters the spots looked as large as dinner plates…. Once focused, it becomes pretty clear that these lasers are quite a bit more powerful than the <5 mW listed on the product’s warning sticker.”

Laser inside a Christmas projector
The green and blue laser diode modules inside the holiday projector

Nardi noted that the blue laser, when focused, was “easily able to burn pieces of paper and punch holes in black plastic.” He also estimated that the green laser was “at least twice as bright” as a laser pointer he owns that claims to be 50 mW: “…it certainly would not surprise me if they are both [green and blue] at least 100 mW.”

Nardi writes: “If your biggest take-away from this post is that the Home Depot is selling a 440 nm laser you can use to burn stuff, I certainly don’t blame you.”

From Hackaday. LaserPointerSafety.com has a page with more information, including measurements of the beam output of a Star Shower projector, here.

Commentary from LaserPointerSafety.com: In fairness to Home Accents, the FDA-required warning sticker has to do with the laser power of the unopened unit in its factory configuration. Class 3R (IIIa) laser projectors like this are not allowed in the U.S. to be over 5 mW output power. It may be that after going through the holographic diffraction grating that creates the stars, that the Home Accents projector meets Food and Drug Administration requirements for user access to laser light.

US: MIT develops system to locate laser perpetrators using as few as two cameras, from miles away

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Lincoln Laboratory has developed a system that can provide the ground location of someone directing a laser beam into the sky. The intent is to help find persons aiming lasers at aircraft.

The Laser Aircraft Strike Suppression Optical System (LASSOS) uses two or more low-light CCD sensor cameras that observe the night sky, each with a star tracker that determines the attitude of the sensor. The cameras observe a volume of airspace such as around an airport. Beam locations are identified by analyzing the two (or more) different views to find the endpoint of the laser beam.

LASSOS system artwork 600w

In one test, LASSOS identified the ground location of a laser beam aimed into the sky, using two cameras located nine nautical miles away. The locations was determined within 30 seconds. The system was so accurate that it could differentiate between locations separated by only 5 meters.

A key attribute of LASSOS is that the final output is a Google Earth map with the beam and perpetrator location overlaid. This makes it easy for law enforcement to know the area they will be searching for the perpetrator.

An MIT press release gave no indication of potential installation and operational costs, and did not indicate any further plans for testing or implementation.

LASSOS was developed under Air Force Contract No. FA8721-05-C-0002 and/or FA8702-15-D-0001.

From a September 2017 MIT Lincoln Laboratory press release, reprinted below (click the “read more” link.) MIT also has a YouTube video of the system; the LASSOS description begins about 56 seconds into the video. Thanks to Greg Makhov, who brought this to our attention via a Tech Briefs article printed in January 2018.

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US: 6,753 laser/aircraft incidents reported to FAA in 2017; 9% lower than 2016

During 2017, there were 6,753 laser illumination incidents reported to the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration. This compares with 7,442 reports in 2016, and 7,703 reports in 2015. This is a 9% drop compared with 2016, and a 12% drop compared with 2015.

2017 laser strikes FAA 2004-2017 600w

Here is the same data, plotted to show the average number of illuminations per day, during each year:

2017 laser strikes FAA each day 600w

For additional charts and statistics, click the “read more” link.

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UK: "Call for evidence" response summarizes many groups' views on laser eye, plane incidents; sets forth actions

[NOTE: This news item includes commentary from LaserPointerSafety.com, as we feel the U.K. report is a must-read which gives important guidance on laser pointer hazards and actions.]

The U.K. government published on January 8 2018 a 14-page report on laser pointer safety and potential regulation. The report includes two new actions the government will take to reduce the number and risk of unsafe laser pointers:

     1) “strengthening safeguards to stop high-powered lasers entering the country”, and
     2) “working with manufacturers and retailers to [voluntarily] improve labeling.

Separately, the U.K. government published the Laser Misuse (Vehicles) Bill on December 20 2017. This makes it illegal to point a laser at vehicles, with a prison term of up to five years and an unlimited fine.

“Laser pointers: call for evidence - government response”

From August 12 to October 6 2017, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy opened a “Call for Evidence” consultation. BEIS set forth 19 questions, asking the public to give their views on laser pointer hazards and what actions to take.

The January 8 2018 government response summarizes the 265 responses received.

The report is especially useful because it incorporates the views of many disparate groups: pilots (64% of respondents), “concerned members of the public” (14%), professional laser safety advisors (9%), users of laser pointers (6%), ophthalmologists (6%), and Trading Standards authorities (2%).

The report then distills these views, finding surprising commonality. It is a good overview for the non-expert on two topics:

     1) Actual laser pointer hazards — separating fact from fear
     2) Potential actions to reduce the number and severity of laser pointer injuries and incidents — including what actions may not work (e.g., licensing).

We have summarized the findings below (click the “read more” link). However, reading the complete document is well worth the time of anyone interested in this issue.
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UK: Laser pen imports to be more restrictive

According to a January 8 2018 story in The Telegraph, “additional support will be offered to local authority port teams and border officials in order to help identify and confiscate the high powered lasers” that are said to be responsible for many of the over 1,200 incidents in 2017 when lasers were aimed at aircraft in Britain.

In addition, “new measures are also being introduced to tackle the sale of unsafe pointers, including more stringent testing.”

The move was supported by the British Air Line Pilots Association (BALPA).

It may help reduce the number of laser pen illuminations of trains (578 incidents were reported between April 2011 and November 2017) and eye injuries (more than 150 reported since 2013, mainly involving children).

Consumer Minister Margot James said the ministry is “going further than ever before” to police the sale of unsafe lasers.

The Argus quoted Professor John O’Hagan, of Public Health England’s laser and optical radiation dosimetry group.He said: “Over time we have become increasingly concerned about the dangers of growing numbers of unlabelled and incorrectly labelled high power laser pointers being bought by the public. It is tragic that we continue to see eye injuries, especially in children. Laser safety experts at Public Health England have worked closely with local authorities in stopping large numbers of these lasers reaching UK consumers. The extra protections proposed should help even further - if you have a laser and you don’t need it, remove the batteries and get rid of it.”

The Telegraph and The Argus. The stories seem to be a result of the U.K. government publishing, on January 8 2018, a response to their fall 2017 Call for Evidence. The government response included the increased import enforcement actions.

See also the December 2017 news of a new U.K. law that provides stronger penalties for aiming at aircraft. The new import/consumer initiative seems to be part of the government thrust against illegal and overpowered laser pens.