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US: Officer in car said to have burned cornea from "inadvertent" laser pointer incident

A police officer in College Place, Washington was driving when he was illuminated by a laser pointer. Officer Bill Kelly had a burning sensation in his left eye and went to St. Mary’s Hospital. He was “released with a small burn of his cornea.”

The incident happened on November 26 2017. A College Place resident later confessed to using the laser pointer. The 43-year-old woman said she “inadvertently” aimed the laser at the officer. Police said the laser was “Class III.”

The unnamed woman may be charged with unlawful discharge of a laser at a law enforcement officer in the performance of their duty, a Class C felony which has a punishment of up to five years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine.

College Place Wa laser pointer class III
The laser pointer

College Place WA laser pointer label
Close-up of the laser pointer label

From MyColumbiaBasin.com.

Note from LaserPointerSafety.com: Visible light travels through the clear cornea — it is not absorbed by corneal tissue. It is essentially impossible for a handheld laser’s visible light to be able to cause corneal damage to a moving target many yards away. While certain green lasers can also emit infrared light, it is extremely unlikely that the IR was strong enough to cause damage under the specified conditions. When corneal damage is seen after an unwanted laser pointer exposure, this is due to the person rubbing their eyes too vigorously. More information on evaluating laser injuries is here.

Japan: Teen injured by LED pen "toy" held 40 seconds in his eye

NOTE: The injury described herein was NOT caused by a laser but by a light-emitting diode (LED). We are including it here because the measured power of 5 mW is similar to laser pointers, and because in mid-2013 the FDA proposed to regulate toys containing lasers. This case of an LED-caused injury may stimulate arguments on both sides. Additional discussion is in blue at the end of this story.

A December 2006 incident has come to our attention. A 15-year-old Japanese boy suffered a retinal injury and visual loss after deliberately looking into a 5 mW violet (410 nm) light emitting diode for a total of about 40 seconds. The LED was in a pen was sold as a toy called “Secret Pen”. The toy appears to consist of an LED light which can excite ink that is invisible under ordinary light but which fluoresces under ultraviolet and near-UV light. The 410 nm wavelength caused photochemical damage to the retina.

According to a 2011 paper in Retinal Cases & Brief Reports, the LED was aimed into the teen’s eye from a distance of about 1 cm. It was held there for about 20 seconds as he deliberately stared into the light. This exposure was repeated the next day. About two weeks later, decreased vision (20/50 on the Snellen scale) was noted in the right eye.
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Italy: Pre-school hit twice, parents fearful

A pre-school in Rome was targeted twice by laser beams in a single month, sending students to the hospital for examinations both times. According to an Italian newspaper report, “the laser beam coming from outside the building hit them in the eyes, hurting them”. The exams showed “eyes puffy and watery, fortunately no serious injuries to the cornea.”

The school board president says that the laser could only have come from apartments overlooking the school, but “we do not know if it is the act of a madman or a child struggling with a dangerous toy.” Police are searching for the perpetrator.

After the second incident, teachers lowered the blinds in the classroom. The report also notes other “increasing” incidents where laser pointers are used against pilots and football (soccer) goalies.

From Corriere Della Sera, “Laser negli occhi dei bimbi”. Thanks to Alberto Kellner Ongaro for bringing this to our attention.