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Australia: Study shows inexpensive green laser pointers are mislabled and significantly over-powered
The researchers purchased eight laser pointers from sources including electronics stores and online stores. They bought four lasers with green beams and four with red beams. The cost of each laser was less than AUD $30 (USD $23).
All of the lasers were advertised to have a maximum output power of either less than 1 mW or less than 5 mW. The green laser pointers’ actual output power measured from 51 to 127 milliwatts. Dr. Fox said “At that upper level, the beam would cause catastrophic retinal damage.”
Apparently much of the green lasers’ power was in the infrared. These types of lasers work by generating non-visible infrared light which is then converted by a crystal into visible green light. A filter is normally used to block the infrared light, and only let the green light through. However, “[t]he research team found that imported laser pointers were poorly made, with manufacturers tempted to skip installing infrared-blocking filters to hold down costs.” The researchers did not measure how much of each lasers’ output was in the visible, and how much was in the infrared.
The 127 milliwatt green laser was labeled as a Class 2 device, with maximum output power of 1 mW. In a previous study from the U.S. NIST, the highest power output they measured was 66.5 mW from a green laser labeled as having a maximum output power of 5 mW.
Three of the four red laser pointers were found to be within the legal limit of 1 milliwatt. The fourth red pointer was about 8.5 milliwatts. The researchers felt that the red lasers’ spots were less focused than green lasers, meaning there was less risk of retinal damage. Also, red lasers use diodes. The maximum power output of these diodes is limited; excessive current will destroy the diode’s lasing capacity instead of providing a more powerful beam.
The researchers noted that “Our experiment raised two very pertinent concerns – first, why were class 3B lasers so easily purchased via the internet without licensing? This suggests that there are many loopholes in the importation of these products and more stringent processes need to be reinforced. Secondly, why did green lasers labeled as Class 2 reach up to a power output of 127mW, effectively attaining a class 3B classification? It is very likely that there is a significant infrared component. This drastic degree of non-compliance suggests that there needs to be more rigorous testing and quality control of these commercially available lasers – merely imposing a power limit of less than 1mW is insufficient.”
The researchers concluded by stating that “Authorities such as the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) and medical authorities such as the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Ophthalmologists (RANZCO) ought to advocate more strongly for stringent testing, quality control and licensing of green DPSS lasers.”
From an RMIT press release, “Over-the-counter laser pointers a threat to eyesight” and an advance copy of a paper, “Green lasers are beyond power limits mandated by safety standards,” which will be published in the Proceedings of the 2016 IEEE Engineers in Medicine and Biology Conference, online at the IEEE Xplore website. Thanks to Dr. Kate Fox for the paper.
Compare this with the number of illuminations in the United States over the same period:
Australia’s data roughly tracks the U.S. data during the period 2007-2012. Here are the two charts above, superimposed, with the Australia numbers multiplied six times. The slope of the lines are similar for the first six years.
Data from Airservices Australia, a corporation owned by the Australian Government whose services include air traffic control and aeronautical data. The information was provided in response to a LaserPointerSafety.com media inquiry. Thanks to Amanda Palmer for her assistance with the request.
Barry Jackson, an A380 pilot and former president of a pilot’s association, cautioned in early January 2014 that this can be “extremely dangerous” for aircraft that are landing.
UFO hunter Alan Ferguson agreed with Jackson’s characterization of the danger. Ferguson lives in Acacia Hills, about 35 miles from Darwin, capital of the Northern Territory. His website, UFOterritory.com.au, contains videos and descriptions of sightings, including some videos of lasers being used to contact or power up UFOs.
Ferguson noted that he and his UFO-hunting associates are “very professional ... and can see the difference between a UFO and a plane ... Especially when they just appear and then move off then stop again, no planes do that.” He said persons who do aim at aircraft are “idiots” and should be prosecuted.
On January 4 2014, laser pointers were aimed at aircraft landing at Darwin International Airport. Ferguson said neither he nor visiting associates used lasers during that time.
Persons who shine a laser pointer at aircraft in the Northern Territory can be jailed for up to four years.
Two frames from a YouTube video shot January 4 2014 by Peter Maxwell Slattery, using a night vision monocular. The first frame shows Slattery aiming a laser at a dot moving steadily across the sky from right to left. The next frame is from a few seconds later and shows the “power up” effect. A YouTube search for “UFO laser pointer” brings up numerous videos with titles such as “UFO’s respond to laser pointers” and “UFO inspects my laser pointer”.
The author, Trevor Wheatley, is chair of the Standards Australia SF-019 Committee on laser safety. He studied 41 lasers purchased online in 2012 that were claimed by the sellers to be legal -- lower than the Australian import limit of 1 milliwatt. Most cost less than AUS $20.
Wheatley found that 95% of these pointers were illegal under Australian law, with outputs above 1 mW. Of the 41, 78% were between 5 mW and 100 mW. (5 mW is generally taken to be the highest safe power for a general purpose laser pointer.)
Based on Wheatley's research, "...there would appear to be a greater than 50% chance that someone attempting to buy a 'safe' laser pointer would inadvertently get a hazardous laser." Further, 100% of the tested laser pointers below $20 "would represent prohibited weapons in most Australian states."
From other statistics, the paper states that "availability has not been significantly impacted." In 2007/2008 there were 648 incidents involving lasers pointed at aircraft. In 2010/2011, well after the import and possession restrictions, the number of incidents had increased to 828.
Click to read more...
The story did not give additional details. It is assumed this data is for all of Australia, since DIT is a federal agency.
From The Age
Commentary from LaserPointerSafety.com: Australia’s laser/aircraft incident rate appears to be 2.8 times the U.S. rate, based on incidents per capita. This is despite the fact that Australia has nationwide import restrictions on laser pointers, and that many Australian states severely restrict or ban possession of laser pointers.
There may be other reasons for this discrepancy. Perhaps laser incidents are not counted the same way in these two countries. Perhaps population is not the best way to compare the two countries’ laser incident rates.
However, on first analysis it appears that Australia has a significant problem with lasers being aimed at aircraft even though widespread restrictions on availability and possession of laser pointers. This is a preliminary indication that bans and restrictions may not work as anticipated. They may need to be combined with other actions, or it may be that other actions have more of an effect to reduce the incident rate.
Calculation details: Australia’s population is estimated at 22,680,322 as of July 25 2012. Australia had 733 incidents in 2011 according to The Age story above. This is a rate of 1 incident for every 30,942 persons. The U.S. population is estimated at 313,979,000 as of the same date. The U.S. had 3,591 laser incidents in 2011. This is a rate of 1 incident for every 87,435 persons.
Illegal imports of laser pointers explode - 24 July 2012
Customs and Border Protection is warning travellers and online shoppers about Australia’s tough laws prohibiting the import of laser pointers.
This follows a dramatic increase in the number of these dangerous items being seized by officers at the border.
In the past year, the number of laser pointers seized by Customs and Border Protection officers at the Sydney International Mail Centre alone has increased by close to 60 per cent, from around 9,000 to over 14,000.
Australian import officers spill out a container full of confiscated packages of illegally-imported laser pointers.
Importing laser pointers greater than one milliwatt in intensity is prohibited in Australia without a permit.
“The sheer volume of these importations suggests that people do not understand the threat these items pose to safety, particularly to commercial aircraft,” said National Manager Cargo Operations, Jagtej Singh.
Customs and Border Protection officers are trained to detect prohibited and restricted items from the millions of items which arrive each week.
“If you try and import laser pointers without a permit, there’s a high possibility they’ll be found by Customs and Border Protection, seized, and you may even face fines of up to $275,000.”
Customs and Border Protection has produced a video clip outlining the risks being taken by people who inadvertently or deliberately breach the laws on laser pointers.
It can be viewed on the agency’s YouTube channel.
According to this video, “Customs officers screen all incoming mail imported into Australia, and items such as laser pointers WILL show up on X-ray.”
Media enquiries: Customs and Border Protection Media (02) 6275 6793
From Australia Customs and Border Protection
From the Sydney Morning Herald
However, it turns out that this incident was caused by boys on bicycles, apparently acting without pre-planning and not knowing how the lasers would affect pilot vision. During a Feb. 2011 briefing to the SAE G10T laser safety group , FAA flight standards liaison Patrick Hempen said that the truth about Sydney has not caught up with the news stories: “The attacks are usually spontaneous in nature, perpetrated by careless or malicious persons.”
Hempen said that investigation by US and Australian officials revealed that the Sydney "cluster attack" was caused by youths, riding their bicycles on a golf course at night, who stopped and took the occasion to illuminate landing aircraft. He noted that the youths’ local community had a history of acrimony directed at the airport authority due to the construction of a new runway which caused more flights over their residential area.
Hempen also investigated several laser events in the Mideast and found many of the so-called "deliberate attacks" to be similar; they were “events perpetrated by youths, in a party-like atmosphere, without care or knowledge of the havoc that they were causing.”
Based on a Feb. 1, 2011 presentation to SAE G10T.
The move was a result of "a number of incidents" where high-powered pointers had been used to target aircraft.
The amendment to the Police Offenders Act would make it illegal to intentionally direct a laser beam at any person, animal, vehicle or aircraft. "The proposed offenses related to all laser pointers but did not include their use by surveyors, astronomers, medical professionals and those in the construction and mining industries."
More details are available from The Examiner
“The State Government and South Australia Police consider the misuse of these laser pointers to be an issue of potential danger to the public,” Mr Holloway says. “These high-powered lasers can be incredibly harmful, particularly if shone into the cockpits of aeroplanes or cabins of other high-powered vehicles, potentially leading to widespread damage and even death.”
Click to read more...
“These amendments will make it an offense to possess or use powerful handheld laser pointers and are consistent with other jurisdictions that have moved to prohibit these items,” Corbell said in a statement. “Police will have the power to apprehend and prosecute a person who uses a laser pointer to target aircraft or vehicles.
Click to read more...
And now handheld laser pointers have earned a place alongside guns in Australia’s most populous state.
A new law proposed today by the premier of New South Wales declares possession of the handheld lasers a serious crime, punishable by up to 14 years in prison, depending on the device’s power. Weaker lasers could carry a $5,000 fine or 2 years in jail, and there would be exemptions only for teachers, construction crews and the scientists who point out the stars on planetarium ceilings.
This all may sound vaguely familiar: the United States went through a similar fit in 2005. Then, the Federal Aviation Administration reported an astounding 287 cases of cockpits hit with laser beams, and the House of Representatives proposed a law against pointing the devices at planes , with fines up to $250,000 and prison terms up to five years.
The full blog post is at the New York Times
Critics said the new laws were impractical and accused the Government of failing to back its tough talk with resources for enforcement.
Lasers have become a serious problem for aircraft in Sydney. In the most recent incident, a beam was pointed at an ambulance helicopter at the weekend.
Mr Iemma said banning hand-held lasers would "stop the potential for mass murder. I cannot underestimate the … catastrophic consequences if a plane is brought down by one of these fools, these idiots, these reckless individuals who want to use these high-powered hand-held lasers and think it's a joke."
Full story at the Sydney Morning Herald
"Under the new Customs regulations (introduced July 1), hand-held laser pointers with an emission level greater than one milliwatt (1mW) are prohibited, unless prior written permission has been granted," Minister for Home Affairs Bob Debus said.
Click to read more...
“This sort of madness just should not be tolerated - it is at best a risk or blinding an individual, yes, just even a Joe Citizen: at worst it could bring down a plane. Typical of all our soft governments - and our soft judiciaries.”
“A laser in the eyes can permanently blind, these brain dead individuals are not just louts or plain footy fans they are criminals and should be treated as such.... Why the hell does anyone need to carry around a laser light ? They are of no legitimate use to an idiot, except to cause nuisance, they should be classed a concealed weapon and treated accordingly.”
“The practice of directing laser beams at aircraft is incredibly dangerous as is the potential of using these beams in any other situation. There were reports of the same thing happening to footballers at the weekend. The penalties suggested going to the Senate today are insufficient to say the least and should not only cover aircraft but any use of these lasers intended to injure other people.”
Additional comments are at the Melbourne Herald Sun article.
The league has vowed to work with police and venues to crack down on the problem following at least two incidents in Friday night's Richmond-Collingwood clash.
"The AFL will work with police and our venues to ban anyone caught using laser lights to distract players during the course of a match," said league operations manager Adrian Anderson.
"It's unacceptable for players in a contact sport having something shine in their eyes while playing the game.
A sharp jump in the number of lasers aimed into aircraft cockpits has sparked new laws to allow offenders to be jailed.
The draft laws will be put before the Senate today. The legislation comes as Transport Minister Mark Vaile reported there had been 170 laser incidents in 2007 and the dangerous practice was happening more often.
Click to read more...
Ms Spence said: “This government is committed to cracking down on these reckless and idiotic individuals, and that is why we have previously announced we are introducing new legislation regarding the possession and use of laser pointers.
“Under changes to the Weapons Act which I announced in July, following the Weapons Act Review, it will become an offence to be in possession of a laser pointer, without a reasonable explanation. Click to read more...