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Western Pa. libraries offer solar eclipse glasses, but many already gone

Brian C. Rittmeyer
| Friday, Aug. 4, 2017, 3:57 p.m.

There's what could be a once-in-a-lifetime sight coming up, but everyone's advised not to look at it.

At least, not without eye protection.

The solar eclipse crossing the United States on Aug. 21 is the first to do so in nearly 100 years.

The sun won't be completely blocked out in the Pittsburgh area, but it's supposed to be about 80 percent or so.

To help people view the eclipse safely, area libraries are offering special solar filtering glasses.

Or, in some cases, they were.

The Westmoreland Library Network got about 1,000 of the glasses through a national program in which thousands of libraries were giving out free glasses.

They were distributed to the network's 23 libraries in Westmoreland County, said Kathy Miller, its office and finance manager.

“I'm pretty sure nobody has any left,” she said.

Other libraries in the area are holding onto their supply of glasses for the day of the eclipse.

The Springdale Free Public Library has some, which it will give to those attending a party planned at the Rachel Carson Homestead.

The Community Library of Allegheny Valley in Harrison and the Oakmont Carnegie Library are doing the same.

Community Library circulation manager Michelle Ortasic said they have a limited supply that will be available to patrons the day of the eclipse. It will be first come, first served.

The library missed out on the national program and got its own glasses, she said.

The library will have activities for kids and refreshments.

“Hopefully, if the weather is nice that day, we can go outside and see what we can see,” Ortasic said. “The eclipse only happens every so many years. We're pretty excited about it. It's an historic event.”

The Oakmont library has about 100 pairs for patrons that day it bought on Amazon, reference librarian Katie Donahoe said.

Donahoe said she also works at Peoples Library in New Kensington; its supply was wiped out in a day, she said.

In public information made available for the eclipse , NASA says looking directly at the sun is unsafe except for during the brief, total phase of a solar eclipse when the moon entirely blocks the sun's face.

That will happen only within a narrow path — and not in the Pittsburgh area.

The only safe way to look directly at the uneclipsed or partially eclipsed sun is through special-purpose solar filters, such as eclipse glasses or hand-held solar viewers that meet safety standards, NASA says.

Homemade filters and regular sunglasses don't offer enough protection, according to NASA.

Joseph Ricci, executive director of the Pennsylvania Optometric Association, says it's vitally important people take steps to protect their eyes.

“Even momentarily watching the sun can result in vision loss and blindness,” he said.

Even in the area of the total eclipse, where NASA says it's about as bright as a full moon, “the problem is that total blockage is only momentary,” Ricci said. “As soon as those sun rays peek from behind the moon, you can do serious damage.”

Ricci said some of the glasses being offered and sold are safe and effective.

“The danger of those glasses is you have to know who you're getting them from,” he said. “Get bad ones, and you could do serious damage to your eyes. You don't want to take that risk.”

Cheswick optometrist John Zelazowski, who works at Alle-Kiski Eye Care, said looking — even with the glasses — isn't worth that risk.

“My recommendation is not to look at it. It's hard to do it safely,” he said, questioning the efficacy of the filtering glasses.

Damage “can happen within seconds,” he said.

Brian C. Rittmeyer is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-226-4701, brittmeyer@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BCRittmeyer.

Michelle Ortasic, circulation manager for the Community Library of Allegheny Valley in Harrison, wears a pair of the eclipse glasses the library will have available for patrons during the solar eclipse on Aug. 21.
Brian C. Rittmeyer | Tribune-Review
Michelle Ortasic, circulation manager for the Community Library of Allegheny Valley in Harrison, wears a pair of the eclipse glasses the library will have available for patrons during the solar eclipse on Aug. 21.
Eclipse glasses are being made and marketed for the solar eclipse on Aug. 21. Using such glasses is the only way to safely look at the eclipse directly, but eye doctors urge viewers to use extreme caution and make sure glasses meet safety standards.
Brian C. Rittmeyer | Tribune-Review
Eclipse glasses are being made and marketed for the solar eclipse on Aug. 21. Using such glasses is the only way to safely look at the eclipse directly, but eye doctors urge viewers to use extreme caution and make sure glasses meet safety standards.
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