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Halide light ban passes Senate

A ban on Type-R metal halide lights in Oregon schools moved a step closer to becoming law when the Oregon Senate passed Senate Bill 479 at the urging of several Lake Oswego teachers.

The bill, which passed the Senate April 4, would require districts to remove and replace the bulbs in school buildings, but not in stadiums and outdoor athletic fields.

'The current halide light bulbs do not belong in schools where students, educators and the public can be unknowingly exposed,' said Sen. Richard Devlin, D-Tualatin, whose district includes Lake Oswego, West Linn and portions of Southwest Portland.

Sponsored by Devlin, the legislation stems from an 2004 incident at the Bryant Elementary School gymnasium. During a five-hour in-service class, 70 teachers were exposed to ultraviolet radiation from a Type-R metal halide light bulb that had been damaged by a stray volleyball but continued to burn through its broken cover.

The group was exposed to the equivalent of 41 days of ultraviolet radiation during the time they sat under the light.

The teachers that were positioned directly under the light - Kellie La Follette, Denise Fletter, Mary Neerhout Borge and Carol Teater - were all severely burned and continue to suffer from their injuries.

Neither the school district nor the teachers knew that they were being exposed to the radiation. The injured women now wear wrap-around sunglasses and carry umbrellas on sunny days.

While this type of incident is rare, it is not isolated, according to Devlin.

Under Senate Bill 479, districts would be required to replace the Type-R bulbs with either Type-T self-extinguishing bulbs or other lighting types that do not pose a health threat.

Type-T bulbs are self-extinguishing, and if the outer cover is broken, they will turn off within 15 minutes.

'We are thrilled that the Senate has taken action to make Oregon the first state in the nation to stand up and protect the children and their families from the danger of metal halide lights,' La Follette said.

Senate Bill 479 now moves to the House for a vote. If passed by the House and signed by Gov. Ted Kulongoski, the bill is scheduled to go into effect July 1. It gives districts one year to comply.

'We are hopeful that the House will care as much and pass SB 479 into law protecting people from this unnecessary danger,' La Follette said.