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Springdale library 'sickened' by discovery of counterfeit eclipse glasses

Madasyn Czebiniak
| Wednesday, Aug. 23, 2017, 5:00 p.m.

Just because your solar eclipse glasses said they meet internationally accepted safety standards doesn't mean they were legitimate.

Dozens of purple glasses that the Springdale Free Public Library handed out during an eclipse viewing party Monday at the Rachel Carson Homestead indicated they were made by a company approved by the American Astronomical Society. They had the ISO logo printed on them, meaning they were approved by the International Organization for Standardization.

But they weren't.

"We did not produce those glasses," American Paper Optics President John Jerit said Wednesday. "Check out our safety page on our site and we show the differences."

True to his word, the purple glasses match the description the company has on its website for counterfeits.

The counterfeit glasses have wider, more rounded arms and square edges while the real glasses have thinner arms and rounded edges, Jerit's company said.

There is no confirmation that the glasses handed out by the library were unsafe. The only way to truly tell is to test them with a spectrophotometer, a device that shines intense ultraviolet, visible, and infrared light through a filter to measure how much gets through at each wavelength, according to the American Astronomical Society.

All the manufacturers on the society's approved list for glasses and viewers have been vetted through ISO paperwork and accredited testing. The society also has examined the products personally.

Jerit said his company hasn't tested the counterfeit glasses to see if they are safe to use, nor could he give an opinion.

"I cannot give an opinion on something I did not produce," Jerit said. "The fact that these counterfeits put my company name on them is enough for me to know that the groups that produced them are not legitimate businesses. We can only control what we do.

"It's unfortunate on many levels."

Library board President Jim Anderson said no one has contacted the library regarding the issue. He said he believes the library did a thorough job when it came to vetting the glasses.

"(They) told me how they went through the process, how they looked online to make sure they weren't fake," Anderson said. "They went to a recommended site; there was a list supposedly of recommended companies to buy them from; they researched one of those companies; they bought the glasses from them; there was a certification in there from the company.

"I don't know what else more these people could do."

The glasses say they are ISO approved, which is what the American Astronomical Society used to tell people to look for to determine if glasses were safe — but not even that helps anymore.

Vendors can grab an ISO logo off the internet and put it on their products and packaging even if their eclipse glasses haven't been properly tested, the society's website says.

"Just seeing the ISO logo or a label claiming ISO 12312-2 certification isn't good enough," the society wrote. "You need to know that the product comes from a reputable manufacturer or one of their authorized dealers."

Library Director Janet Tyree also thinks the library did its "due diligence" in making sure the glasses were acceptable.

She said she bought 60 pairs from a China-based company called Wyn-Marts through Amazon. She said she bought them long before the library teamed up with the Rachel Carson Homestead Association to host the eclipse party.

The library on Wednesday issued a statement on its Facebook page attributed to Tyree. It urged anyone with concerns to contact the library.

"We are so sickened by the possibility that there may be an issue with the glasses that were used on Monday," it said.

Amazon notified customers who bought glasses from manufacturers not recommended by NASA and the astronomical society, and advised them not to use the glasses to view the eclipse.

Tyree said she received an e-mail from Amazon warning customers that not every set of glasses could be legitimate.

Tyree said she went to the astronomical society's website to make sure the glasses she bought were made by an approved company and also tested them with light bulbs.

"We tested them two or three times," Tyree said.

According to the society, safe viewers only show users the sun or something comparably bright like the sun reflected in a mirror or certain types of light bulbs.

If shaded lamps or other common household light fixtures can be seen through the glasses, they're no good.

"I'm not really sure what more they could do," Anderson said. "From our standpoint, we bought them from a legitimate company who said they were legitimate glasses."

"If they're fake glasses, I'm not really sure how we're supposed to (test) that. We're not scientists."

Cecilia Fan, an Amazon spokeswoman, said the company asked third-party sellers of eclipse glasses to provide documentation to verify that their products were compliant with relevant safety standards.

She said the sellers who provided the documentation remain available to customers, and those who didn't were removed and their customers notified.

"Customers can contact Amazon customer service with any questions or concerns," Fan said.

A post on Wyn-Marts Facebook page show the same glasses up for sale, but the link to purchase the glasses is no longer active.

Wyn-Marts is not on the vendor list for American Paper Optics safe solar eclipse glasses, nor is it on the American Astronomical Society's list of approved vendors.

Wyn-Marts address is listed as "Apt 51 Room 201, Zhejiang, China" on its website. E-mails sent to two addresses provided by the company were not returned .

Tyree said the library printed out a warning and directions for people who used the library's glasses that said they should be used "at your own risk."

"Springdale Free Public Library or Rachel Carson Homestead are not responsible for damage or injury to your eye," the paper said.

Not everyone who attended the viewing party used library bought glasses, Tyree said. She said she and her grandchildren used them, but neither she nor they had experienced any issues with their eyes by Tuesday.

It can take hours or even days for symptoms in people who may have looked at the eclipse without proper eye protection to show, according to Cheswick optometrist Dr. John Zelazowski.

He said people can develop solar retinopathy, which is an actual burning of the retina. Related symptoms are vision loss, blind spots, and blurry and painful vision. Depending on the length of exposure vision loss could be permanent.

Zelazowski said he told his patients to watch the eclipse at home on television. He said he doesn't think "trusting your eyes to a pair of cardboard glasses is advised."

"Prevention is the key," he said.

People with such symptoms are advised to see their eye doctor.

The Springdale library is not the only organization that experienced issues with solar eclipse glasses.

Other libraries report same issue

The Northland Public Library was notified that the 50 glasses they'd bought on Amazon were in question, so they went straight to the garbage.

"We just decided not to distribute them," said Santina Balestrieri, spokeswoman for the McCandless library. "Our patrons' safety was more important."

Northland was able to give out about 200 glasses from a reputable source, because another library had extras.

Monroeville Public Library also bought online through Amazon, but got no notifications that their safety was in question, said Carla White, technology librarian.

The Children's Museum of Pittsburgh had to hold back 100 of its 150 solar eclipse glasses after the company the museum bought them from warned the museum they were fakes, marketing director Bill Schlageter said.

Schlageter said the museum placed two orders for glasses, 50 from one company and 100 from another company.

On Thursday, the company that provided the museum with 100 glasses sent them a check for a full refund and a note saying not to use the glasses because they weren't safe. Schlageter wouldn't identify either company.

The museum then double-checked their remaining 50 glasses to make sure they were safe.

"We were confident," Schlageter said.

Other organizations said they got safe, certified glasses.

Cesare Muccari, director of the Westmoreland Library Network, said his organization got 1,000 pairs of glasses through a grant from the Space Sciences Institute's STAR_Net library program.

The network gave 300 to the Hempfield Area School District for distribution at their planetarium programming, and the other 700 to 13 local libraries.

"I have a feeling that our glasses came directly from them," Muccari said. "I'm pretty confident in the ones we gave out."

Anne Holland, spokeswoman for STAR_Net, said the glasses her organization provided to libraries around the country were made by and purchased directly from American Paper Optics and Rainbow Symphony, which had all the proper certifications from NASA.

"These glasses are completely safe," Holland said.

Madasyn Czebiniak is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-226-4702, mczebiniak@tribweb.com, or on Twitter @maddyczebstrib. Staff writers Aaron Aupperlee and Matthew Santoni contributed.

Companies that make eclipse viewing glasses warn that there were many counterfeit glasses sold prior to Monday's eclipse that may not have provided adequate protection to users' eyes.
Patrick Varine | Tribune-Review
Companies that make eclipse viewing glasses warn that there were many counterfeit glasses sold prior to Monday's eclipse that may not have provided adequate protection to users' eyes.
This graphic shows how to spot counterfeit eclipse glasses that claim to be manufactured by American Paper Optics.
Courtesy of American Paper Optics
This graphic shows how to spot counterfeit eclipse glasses that claim to be manufactured by American Paper Optics.
The printing on these eclipse glasses says they were made by American Paper Optics, but the company confirmed they are counterfeit.
Madasyn Czebiniak | Tribune-Review
The printing on these eclipse glasses says they were made by American Paper Optics, but the company confirmed they are counterfeit.
Legitimate makers of eclipse viewing glasses warn that an 'ISO' logo on the glasses isn't a guarantee that they're authentic since counterfeiters also included the logo on bogus glasses.
Madasyn Czebiniak | Tribune-Review
Legitimate makers of eclipse viewing glasses warn that an 'ISO' logo on the glasses isn't a guarantee that they're authentic since counterfeiters also included the logo on bogus glasses.
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