Thursday, July 27, 2017

Solar-eclipse fever means counterfeit glasses are flooding Amazon’s market

I suggest reading the whole article.

Written by Elijah Wolfson
July 27, 2017


As August 21 nears, eclipse-chasers are realizing that if they want to see the sun disappear behind the moon, they can’t just wake up on the day of the astronomical event and step outside their homes. They’ll need solar eclipse glasses. And so, in the past few months, a cottage industry has sprung up to accommodate this market need. The problem is that many of these newly arrived sellers of solar eclipse glasses are fly-by-night manufacturers looking to turn a quick profit by selling subpar and potentially dangerous goods to unsuspecting Americans.


NASA, of course, has a website dedicated to the 2017 eclipse, and on it, they have a section dedicated to eclipse-viewing safety. The site says that eclipse-viewing glasses must meet a few basic criteria:

Have ISO 12312-2 certification (that is, having been certified as passing a particular set of tests set forth by the International Organization of Standardization)
Have the manufacturer’s name and address printed somewhere on the product
Not be older than three years, or have scratched or wrinkled lenses

NASA also names a few trustworthy lens brands: “Our partner the American Astronomical Society has verified that these five manufacturers are making eclipse glasses and handheld solar viewers that meet the ISO 12312-2 international standard for such products: American Paper Optics, Baader Planetarium (AstroSolar Silver/Gold film only), Rainbow Symphony, Thousand Oaks Optical, and TSE 17.”


But if you search for “eclipse glasses” on Amazon, Lunt’s TSE17 lenses don’t show up anywhere near the first 100 results. Those are filled, almost entirely, with sellers like Summstar, which sells HDMI splitters and lightbulbs alongside supposedly sun-safe glasses, and Habibee, which sells a bewildering mix of things like brightly colored plastic hairclips, nail polish, and men’s suspenders.

All of the NASA-approved manufacturers are specialists, making only lenses or astronomical gear. Most have also been in business for decades, and are well-known within the astronomy community and among eclipse-chasers. You can go to their websites and see where they source their parts, what companies did their certifications, and where you can find their factories. The Amazon sellers, on the other hand, typically sell a handful of random products—often recent fad items like fidget-spinners—and provide neither sourcing nor contact information.


All this has made me suspicious about my own glasses. The ones I bought have all the right words printed on them: “meets the Transmission Requirements of ISO 12312-2” they say, before going on to list a slew of other standards allegedly met. Then at the end: “Mfg. by: American Paper Optics.”

But the Amazon listing didn’t actually say American Paper Optics manufactured the lenses; it just showed up with the Tennessee-based company’s stamp on it. I ask Lunt how I could tell if what I had was the real deal or a knock-off, and he tells me to look at the earpieces. There’s a design element that’s been generic among all of cardboard glasses for years (remember those red-and-blue lensed 3D glasses?): the part of the cardboard frame that hooks over the ears has a rounded end. APO recently changed their design to have a more squared-off earpiece.

No surprise, my 10-pack all have rounded ears, the scarlet letter of phoniness.


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