3D glasses could cause cancer, Dominican doctor warns

Juan Pablo Conti ©RapidTVNews | 06-10-2011

The video entertainment industry should do more to alert viewers about irreversible eye damage that could result from the use of 3D glasses.

The astonishing warning was launched by Doctor Tomás Vargas Martínez, president of the Institute Against Glaucoma Blindness (INCOCEGLA), a medical institution from the Dominican Republic.

Speaking this weekend during an event organised as part of the fifteenth anniversary celebrations of INCOCEGLA's foundation, its president said he was particularly concerned about the potentially harmful effects of active 3D glasses.

Unlike passive, polarised 3D glasses used by cinemas and some TV systems, active glasses are one of the technologies that 3D TV vendors have been pushing to trick the human brain into thinking that the stereoscopic images displayed by a 2D screen actually depict a third dimension.

Active shutter glasses work by alternately opening and shutting two LCD lenses, so that left and right eyes are shown different images. Early models featured a wired connection, from which the glasses would obtain both their electrical power (needed to operate the shutter) and the signal required to synchronise the lenses with the display.

The alleged health hazard to human vision that the Dominican ophthalmologist is warning about arises from the introduction of the latest generation of active 3D glasses. These devices receive the sync signal wirelessly through an infrared (IR) beam transmitted by either the TV frame or a standalone unit located near it. They are also battery-powered to control the shutter mechanism.

According to Doctor Vargas, there are studies that prove that IR beams can alter both human eye and skin tissue. "These waves might be invisible to humans," said the expert. "But they are present in the user's glasses near the eye and – at this stage – we can't determine the degree of damage to the conjunctiva, the eyelid skin, the crystalline lens and the retina, with the potential risks being [the occurrence of] degenerative diseases such as skin cancer and tumours of the cornea."

While the warning should of course be taken seriously, the analysis does seem to originate from a conceptual mistake regarding the way that active 3D glasses operate.

Dominican media which covered the presentation quoted the INCOCEGLA president as saying that these devices use "batteries which emit infrared radiation towards the LCD lens inside the active glasses".

As explained above, the IR beams in question (which, by the way, are similar to those of a TV remote or a garage door opener), are not emitted by the 3D glasses, while the batteries inside these devices are there for a different reason.

The IR beams do travel directly in the direction of the eye, however. But could these rays be dangerous to the point that they could inflict the kind of cellular eye damage that Doctor Vargas is warning about?

Let the debate commence.