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Halide light bill signing makes Oregon first in U.S.

by: submitted photo,

Kellie La Follette's eyes - once the source of excruciating pain - shed tear after tear Monday as Gov. Ted Kulongoski made Oregon the first state to ban the hazardous lights that burned them.

Kulongoski's signing approved Senate Bill 479, which prohibits the use of R type metal halide or mercury vapor light bulbs in public schools.

R type metal halide bulbs are commonly found in gymnasiums and warehouses and can expose individuals to harmful UV radiation and burns.

According to the law, all public schools must replace the hazardous lights by Jan. 1.

'One of our main priorities is to ensure the health and safety of Oregon students as well as educators and education support professionals working in our public schools,' said Larry Wolf, president of the Oregon Education Association.

SB-479 was sponsored by Sen. Richard Devlin, D-Tualatin, on behalf of La Follette and three other Lake Oswego teachers who were severely injured after being exposed to excessive UV radiation during a teacher in-service training at Bryant Elementary School in November 2004.

La Follette, Denise Fletter, Mary Neerhout Borg and Sherry Rhoades were among 80 educators attending the training.

The four women were sitting directly below a broken bulb and received the equivalent of a month's worth of sunlight exposure in five hours.

Neither the Lake Oswego School District nor the teachers knew they were being exposed to radiation because the halide bulb continued to burn even though a stray ball had shattered its cover a few days earlier.

They later experienced nausea, sunburn, pain and light sensitivity. Some of those injuries still linger, making doctor visits and dark sunglasses a frequent necessity.

The district replaced all metal halide fixtures once the danger became known.

La Follette attended the bill-signing ceremony with her husband, Joel, who has launched a Web site alerting the public to the dangers of R metal halide lights.

La Follette, who recently regained her normal sight with the aid of special lenses, still suffers from constant pain and cannot be in bright light without them.

The governor's signing felt like a 'big relief,' she said.

'We are relieved to know that this law will protect patrons, staff, and students from ever facing burns from metal halide lights in Oregon schools,' La Follette said. 'We are sincerely grateful for the prayers and support we have had making this day possible.'

In addition to advocating for the passage of Senate Bill 479, the women also support House Bill 2909, which would eliminate the statute of ultimate repose in product liability, allowing injured parties to seek damages from a company or manufacturer throughout the 'useful safe life' of the product.

'The bill will result in manufacturers being more diligent and careful in ensuring their products don't cause injury or harm to consumers and unsuspecting citizens,' Wolf said.