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Why laser pointers can be dangerous

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Posted at 11:25 AM, Jan 16, 2017
and last updated 2017-01-16 11:25:48-05

Shining a laser pointer at someone can be more than just annoying.

It can cause eye damage that could be permanent, according to LaserPointerSafety.com, a website dedicated to the safe use of lasers and laser pointers.

The website explains that a laser’s light is concentrated into a narrow beam that, if aimed at someone’s eye from close up, goes directly into the pupil.

The power density from a 1 milliwatt laser is brighter than the equivalent area of the sun’s surface, which can injure the retina.

Early Monday, a 30-year-old Carroll County man was arrested after he pointed a laser at a Maryland State Police helicopter while it was in the air assisting the Carroll County Sheriff’s office with a law enforcement mission.

The pilot and crew chief both sustained eye injuries, and were treated and released from the hospital. 

RELATED: Carroll County man arrested for laser pointer attack on police helicopter

As laser power further increases, the chance of eye injury increases, according to the site.

“Above roughly 10 to 20 milliwatts for visible continuous-wave lasers, even an accidental direct hit on an eye at close range (where all of the beam enters the pupil) could cause retinal damage,” the site reads. “If the person was looking straight at the laser, the burn will be in the center of a person’s vision. In extreme cases of eye damage, central vision could be almost fully lost, and the person becomes blind in that eye.”

According to the Federal Aviation Administration, there were 7,442 laser illuminations reported by pilots in 2016, a decrease of 3.5 percent since 2015.

The website lists incidents related to laser pointers and aircrafts, including arrest and sentencing information for those convicted of misusing laser pointers.

It also breaks down tips and training for pilots, and legislation related to laser pointers.

In Maryland, it is a misdemeanor to knowingly aim a laser pointer at an aircraft.

And in Ocean City, laser pointers are prohibited unless they’re being used for an educational or instructional meeting. The sale and possession of the devices was banned in 2014, after police there noticed an increase in incidents relating to laser pointers. 

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