It probably was just a matter of time, considering the high profile of the Aug. 21 solar eclipse, that people started figuring out unethical and harmful ways to cash in.

We've already heard reports of a dozen or so Oregon hotels that canceled long-standing reservations without giving notice to the reservation holders and then turning around and renting those rooms to others for hundreds of dollars more. Those hotels have justifiably earned the attention of Oregon's attorney general.

Now, nationally, we're starting to hear reports of an unethical eclipse-related scheme that could cost you much more than just money: According to a recent story in The Washington Post, the American Astronomical Society is starting to issue warnings about what it calls "potentially unsafe eclipse viewers flooding the market."

The stakes here are high. As Jennifer Moody reports in a story on today's front page, the potential eye damage caused from looking directly at the sun during any part of the eclipse could be permanent. And your vision is not the sort of thing that you want to entrust to a pair of knockoff eclipse glasses that are flooding the market courtesy of someone somewhere who thinks he can make a quick buck or two. 

With just two weeks to go until the eclipse, there are some steps you can take to make sure that your eclipse glasses are up to the important job of protecting your eyesight. (Remember that your basic sunglasses are not nearly sufficient to get the job done.)

The gold standard is to check for certification: As Moody reports in today's story, specially designed certified solar eclipse glasses will bear a tiny picture of a globe with the letters "ISO," the initials CE and a statement that reads, "Conforms to and meets the Transmission Requirements of ISO 12312-2."

Here's the problem, though, according to the Astronomical Society: As eclipse glasses flood into the market, "it is no longer sufficient to look for the logo of the International Organization for Standardization," which is abbreviated on quality eclipse glasses as "ISO."

The Astronomical Society pointed to a variety of factors at work: As the eclipse draws near, the number of manufacturers entering the glasses market has swelled. Just online, the Post reported, you can find hundreds of online manufacturers. With sales increasing, so has the backlog of certification paperwork. Given the huge potential market and the limited amount of time remaining before the eclipse, it's entirely possible that some manufacturers are pushing the glasses to the market without certification.

But there's yet another twist, as the Post reported: Just because a pair of glasses isn't certified doesn't necessarily mean it's unsafe: It just means the glasses haven't been tested by a certification organization.

So what's the best course for people who want to watch the eclipse but don't want to put their eyesight at risk for the rest of their lives?

First, check your eclipse glasses for the certification logo and other information. If you see the globe logo and the "ISO" insignia, you should be good to go.

If in doubt, though, the Post suggested a simple test: When you look through the glasses, you shouldn't be able to see anything except the sun. If you can see anything else — the lights in your house, headlights, whatever else — the glasses are not safe to wear to watch the eclipse. Throw them away and hunt down another pair. (The online version of this editorial includes brands and vendors that the Astronomical Society says it trusts.)

We've been hearing it said for a year or so that the Aug. 21 solar eclipse could be the astronomical event of our lifetimes. But that doesn't mean you should gamble away your vision for the rest of your lifetime. (mm)


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