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US: NY senator wants FDA to ban green laser pointers

Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) on March 15 2015 called for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to stop the sale of “high-powered” green laser pointers. He cited the danger to aircraft pilots. The step appears to have been triggered by the report of three pilots going to hospitals for eye injuries on March 9 2015 in the New York area.

Schumer made the announcement at a Sunday press conference in his Manhattan office, along with four commercial airline pilots who had been illuminated by laser light. One pilot, Gabe Rubin, said he knew of a pilot who “suffered severe eye damage from a green laser pointer [and] will never fly again.”

Schumer said “Green lasers are the weapons of choice being used for evil purposes. We know terrorists are always looking for areas of weak points.”

He is focused on green pointers because they are apparently preferred by pranksters because the green light travels farther, and “because the light spectrum of green is more easily absorbed by the retina and then causes more damage”, according to the senator.

In 2012, Schumer wrote a letter to the U.S. FDA saying that laser pointers’ power should be less than the current 5 mW limit, that FDA should restrict more powerful Class 3B (5-500 mW) and Class 4 (500+ mW) lasers, and that FDA should require warning labels about aiming at aircraft.

From Newsday and CBS New York. The text of Sen. Schumer’s press release is below (click the “Read more…” link).
MARCH 15, 2015


New 2014 Data Shows, Green Lasers Were Used to Harm Pilots 17 Times at JFK, 37 Times At LaGuardia, 20 Times At Newark; Just This Week, A Bronx Man Was Arrested For Allegedly Pointing A Green Laser Beam At Airplanes Landing & Taxiing From LaGuardia, Causing Serious Damage to the Eyesight of Four Pilots

Health & Aviation Experts Say Green Lasers Are More Than Double the Strength of Other Colors, Can Travel For Miles & Cause More Damage to Eyesight Because of Green & Yellow Spectrum of Light – Schumer Urges FDA To Immediately Ban the Sale of Overpowered Green Laser Pointers To The Public & Only Make Available Under Strict Professional Licensing

Schumer, Standing with Pilots: The Point Is, Green Lasers Jeopardize Pilot & Passenger Safety

Standing alongside airplane pilots, U.S. Senator Schumer called on the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to ban the sale of high-powered, long-range green laser pointers to the public after multiple incidents of green lasers have been pointed at aircrafts, temporarily blinding and disorienting pilots mid-flight. This includes the incident this week of a Bronx man allegedly pointing a green laser at a plane out of La Guardia, injuring four pilots. These laser pointers have also been reportedly used to distract or blind law enforcement officials, like the NYPD officers flying the helicopter used to investigate the La Guardia incident this week. Serious laser incidents are reported by pilots to the FAA each year; Schumer revealed new data showing that in 2014 there were 17 green laser incidents out of a total 19 at JFK airport; 37 green laser incidents out of a total 41 laser incidents at LaGuardia Airport; 20 green laser incidents out of a total 28 at Newark. Research suggests that green lasers are more dangerous to the eye than red lasers because the light spectrum is more easily absorbed by the retina and more susceptible to damage. In fact, green lasers are more than double the strength of other colored lasers and can travel for miles, according to many media reports and health and aviation experts.

Green lasers have the potential to seriously interfere with the operation of an aircraft by causing temporary flash blindness to pilots, disorientation, and subsequent long-term damage to pilots’ eyesight. The FDA has the authority to regulate lasers and their manufacturers, and Schumer urged the FDA to move forward with a plan to stop the sale of high-powered, green laser pointers to the public without a highly specific and strict professional license. He also urged the FDA to target manufacturers that are attempting to sell green lasers in the United States, in order to alleviate the recent surge of incidents targeting aircrafts and pilots.

Schumer stood alongside pilots representing the Air Line Pilots Association: David Hornblower, Adam Chronas, Daniel Genzale and Gabe Rubin. Two of these individuals had been “lasered” while in flight, another recounted the story of his colleague who is now on permanent disability because of a green-laser incident.

“Shining a green laser into an airplane isn’t just pointless, it’s highly dangerous. When a green laser hits a pilot’s eyes, it can lead to temporary blindness, disorientation and distraction that could take down an aircraft if contact is made at a critical point in flight,” said Senator Schumer. “Aviation and medical experts, as well as the FDA themselves, have noted concern over high-powered, long-range green lasers in particular, and there’s simply no good reason for these to be legal and available online, given the huge risk they pose. In up to 90% of the laser pointer incidents that pilots reported last year at New York area airports, green lasers were the weapon of choice; I am calling on the FDA to use their authority to ban green laser pointers, which pose serious risk to pilots and air travelers whose lives are literally in their hands.”

Capt. Tim Canoll, president of the Air Line Pilots Association, Int'l (ALPA) said, "ALPA is grateful for Sen. Schumer's efforts to restrict the sale of handheld lasers that are strong enough to cause injury and could pose a significant safety risk for pilots, other crew members and passengers. Pointing lasers at aircraft in flight, especially when it is close to the ground during takeoff and landing, can cause temporary blindness, incapacitation, and even permanently damage a pilot's eyes. ALPA will continue our efforts and work alongside Sen. Schumer, law enforcement, the airline industry, and others to raise awareness and reduce occurrences of this federal crime."

The FDA has noted concern about the increased availability of some laser products. The FDA has noted that green lasers are particularly troubling because the human eye is sensitive to green light; the green light can be more startling to the eye as compared to a similarly powered red light. According to a March 2013 study by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), green lasers generate green light from infrared light, from which the eye cannot protect itself. In that NIST report, the agency noted that ideally, the device should be designed and manufactured to confine the infrared light within the laser housing. However, according to the NIST results, more than 75 percent of the devices tested emitted infrared light in excess of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) limit.

Laser pointers at one time were primarily used for presentation purposes in boardrooms and classrooms, they are now wildly available at trinket shops, flea markets, retailers and on the internet, and are much more powerful. According to the FDA, laser pointers can be momentarily hazardous when staring directly at the beam. The eye can focus a laser beam to a very small spot on its retina, which can cause burning and a blind spot. According to the FDA, the light energy from a laser pointer aimed into the eye can be more damaging than looking directly into the sun and it can be extremely dangerous when aimed at someone driving a car or operating other machinery.

There are four major hazard classes (I to IV) of lasers, including three subclasses (IIa, IIIa, IIIb). The higher the class, the more powerful the laser. Consumer laser products include classes I,II and IIIa and lasers for professional use may be in classes IIIb and IV. Laser pointers are included in Class IIIa. The FDA requires warning labels on most laser product, including the power output and the hazard class of the product. Some lasers are strictly for use by medical, industrial or entertainment professionals and can only be used by a person with a license and training.

There have been numerous media reports highlighting specific accounts of green laser beams being pointed at airplane pilots in the New York City metro area. In addition to the most recent incident earlier this week that injured four pilots, in May of 2014, a pilot of a Shuttle America jetliner flying out of LaGuardia Airport reported seeing four bursts of green beams. In March of 2014, a pilot landing at LaGuardia was temporarily blinded by a green laser beam. In October of 2013, a Shuttle America airplane pilot landing at LaGuardia reported seeing a green laser beam pointed at the cockpit.

Schumer released the following data regarding the use of green laser incidents at New York City metro airports and urged the FDA to ban the sale of green laser pointers to the public, to help reduce the risk of eye injury among airplane pilots in the event that a laser pointer is directed at an aircraft. Schumer said that the FDA should also work to identify manufacturers of overpowered green laser pointers and other illegal laser products in an effort to prevent these unsafe products from being sold in the United States.

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