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India: UPDATED - 200+ students have eye problems after New Years Eve laser light show

Students at a laser show in India had symptoms of eye irritation. Below is a story from The News Minute about the show.

After the “read more” link are more stories, plus speculation that the cause might be ultraviolet light, or chemical irritation from fog or smoke.

NYE laser show leaves 200 students in Andhra with eye irritation

The children's eyes began watering and had turned red when they got up the next morning.

Around 40 students of a private school in Andhra Pradesh's Parvathipuram village in Vizianagaram district had to be given medical treatment, after their eyes began to swell on Monday morning [January 1 2018].

The 40 students, along with 200 others, began complaining of irritation and pain in their eyes, after they were reportedly exposed to lights and lasers during a show, as part of the school's New Year's Eve celebrations.

The children's eyes began watering, and had turned red when they got up the next morning.

As the children began complaining, worried parents staged a protest and demanded answers from the school.

Following this, doctors rushed to the school and administered first-aid, before assuring those who had gathered, that the kids would not lose eyesight.

“We prescribed eye drops and ointment for the affected children,” a doctor told the
Times of India.

Meanwhile, Vizianagaram district Collector Vivek Yadav was informed of the incident, and directed the Revenue Divisional Officer (RDO) of Parvathipuram, P Sudarsan Dora, to visit the school along with Mandal Educational Officer P Krishna Murthy.

Circle Inspector G Rambabu also visited the school along with the officials, and spoke to the children, to collect more details regarding the case. Further details are awaited.

Click the “read more” link to see additional updated stories, plus speculation on the possible cause.     

UPDATE January 3 2018

A later story stated that 450 students attended the concert and that 350 of them complained of problems in their eyes. “The children were exposed to high powered electric lights and after the function they went to their dormitories. But on Monday morning around 350 children found difficulty to open their eyes which became red.” “The eyes of the children became reddish and they started shedding tears.” From the Hans India.

UPDATE January 3 2018

The incident was discussed on a private email list for members of the International Laser Display Association. One laser safety expert wrote the following:

Sounds like ultraviolet to me, especially with the time delay. Could be a blacklight with a damaged outer window or an insect killer with a germicidal lamp fitted instead of a UV-A lamp. It would be interesting to know if all those affected did not wear spectacles and those that were not affected did. This is quite common in catering and canteen incidents.

Skin rash is also found with UV exposure.

A further potential source would be any discharge lamps in spot lights with missing or inappropriate UV filtration in the lamp or window. There have been a number of such incidents in the past, but much less common now with LED replacements.

It is always possible they had a UV laser, I suppose.

If all the children recovered within 48 hours, case solved – UV.

A laser show producer wrote:

I would also look into the fog that was used. Maybe bad / old / contaminated / or fluid substitute ? I.e., were only the ones exposed to direct light/laser affected, or were persons backstage and others not in the audience also affected?

Laser safety expert and show producer Greg Makhov, ILDA's Safety Committee chair, wrote:

I strongly suspect that this is not related to laser or light exposure, but most likely some form of chemical exposure, such as fog or smoke.

Some older fog machines and fog fluid were known to cause eye and nasal irritation. It could also be homemade fog fluid or perhaps a smoke bomb. These can easily irritate mucous membranes and moist tissue, including corneal surfaces.

While laser exposures from visible lasers can cause retinal injuries, the reported symptoms are not consistent with retinal injuries. The report suggests corneal irritation, and the eyedrops treatment provided by the doctors also suggests this. Eyedrops would do nothing to help with retinal injuries.

Part of the public perception problem with lasers is that they are considered as an "unknown" risk, and therefore "scary". While it is possible for certain lasers to irritate the cornea and not damage the retina (lasers operating outside the 400-1400 nm retinal hazard spectrum), I would doubt that this would be used for a light show. To get to the level where you would feel it on the cornea, would take on the order of 1000 times the Maximum Permissible Exposure — it would be super bright.

Even with possible IR leakage from a bad DPSS laser (808 and 1064 nm), this would be a retinal hazard, not corneal.

UPDATE January 5 2018

A friend of LaserPointerSafety.com in India contacted an official who said that a “police case has been registered” against the school management, and that the police have arrested the school management. There is no information (yet) publicly available about the laser and other equipment used at the party. “All students are recovering and no complaint on the blindness.”