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Senate panel advances ban

Unlike most people, Lake Oswego first grade teacher Kellie La Follette won't be able to enjoy the great outdoors as the Oregon weather turns from dreary to bright.

During the recent beautiful weather, she covered the windows of her house with brown wrapping paper so she could venture into her kitchen.

When she visits the doctor, she wears sunglasses, a visor and stays in the shadow of an umbrella.

For La Follette, the sun has become an enemy, but now there's a silver lining she can finally see.

Last week, members of the Senate Committee on Education and General Government passed Senate Bill 479 to ban the type of metal halide lights that burned La Follette's eyes and those of three other Lake Oswego School District teachers in 2004.

'We have a lot to celebrate right now and we haven't had a lot to celebrate in awhile,' she said. 'It's the first of many positive things that's come from a really terrible accident.'

The bill, by Sen. Richard Devlin, D-Tualatin, requires schools to replace R-type metal halide lights with T-type, self-extinguishing metal halide lights. If passed by the full Senate, House and signed by Gov. Ted Kulongoski, the bill is scheduled to go into effect July 1. It gives districts one year to comply.

The banned lights are commonly found in large warehouses, stores and gymnasiums at schools. The R-type bulb, which doesn't turn off when it's broken, poses a danger when its cover is broken and the light continues to burn and emit high doses of ultraviolet rays.'

The alternative T-type bulb snuffs out on its own 15 minutes after it breaks. The bulbs are easily interchangeable, Devlin said.

'This is common-sense legislation and the Oregon Legislature needs to take the necessary steps to protect students and teachers,' he said.

La Follette and her three colleagues were among the 120 educators who attended a five-hour training session in the Bryant gym. The teachers were unaware they were sitting under a broken and burning halide light, but experienced nausea and symptoms of intense burns.

A fifth teacher was also affected after spending hours under the defective light teaching physical education classes.

The light had been broken since a volleyball hit it two weeks prior, but no students were harmed.

The four teachers directly underneath the light - La Follette, Denise Fletter, Mary Neerhout Borge and Carol Teater - experienced 41 days worth of exposure, specialists estimated.

The women are still suffering from the incident and have to visit their doctors regularly. They have to wear wrap-around glasses, visors outdoors and in their classrooms to protect their sensitive eyes from light.

Thousands of alerts were sent out statewide urging schools and large businesses to replace R-type lights. Many school districts, including Lake Oswego, have replaced the light fixtures and bulbs. Other districts are choosing to replace the lights as they naturally burn out. Some are choosing to install energy-efficient fluorescent light fixtures in their place.

La Follette, who suffered the most severe burns, has tried a variety of treatments without positive results. She now spends her days in the dark to alleviate the pain, and can no longer spend days fly fishing and hiking.

Yet, she found purpose working with Devlin to write the bill. The other teachers also testified at the hearing in support of it.

La Follette was baffled when she heard some districts in Oregon didn't know about the dangerous lights.

'When a marble that's the wrong size is recalled, there's national publicity to protect the children,' she said. 'Here's something that's in many to most schools and has repeatedly caused hundreds of accidents but has caused little attention. That's been my amazement throughout this whole experience.'

The women are also trying to get the state Legislature to repeal the Statute of Ultimate Repose law, which allows a company that has manufactured something that has gone defective and poses a danger after eight years of use to divorce itself of any responsibility for the defect. Oregon is among 10 states that have SOUR laws.

'I'm so grateful that there's potential for others not to go through what myself and colleagues have gone through,' Kellie La Follette said. 'I hope we're headed toward public awareness and prevention of this accident instead of dwelling on the horror and gore of it.'