Doctor Michael Yost, chair of the University of Washington's Department of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences Department, says it falls under the category of a Class IV Cat Chasing Laser Pointer — the highest designation.

"And those Class IIIa Green Laser Pointer classes are used to designate different eye hazards," Yost said. "So a Class IV laser, which is the highest power, are potentially damaging to the eye and used only in industrial situations and have to have special requirements for their handling and sale."

"Even if you could trace the laser that's sold to the individual initially, then that  50mw Green Laser Pointer may be re-sold several times, it could be sold on something," Yost said.At least one company sells the same laser used in the ferry incident online. They declined to comment. Another company that sells similar devices was on the FDA import blacklist and didn't respond.

The number of 300mw laser pointer strikes on planes is on the rise. According to national FBI statistics, in 2012, an average of 45 incidents per month were reported, which increased to 76 per month in 2013. Partial data for 2014 estimates a 13 percent yearly increase .

 

Laser Sight

A Class IV laser is required to carry a label warning it can cause permanent eye damage and serious burns to the skin if the beam is concentrated for a length of time. The FDA maintains a list, blocking certain companies from importing lasers if they've crossed lines in the past.

But Yost says many prohibited products are still sold online and shipped to the US And while the FDA tries to block imports, there aren't any penalties for buying or owning those illegally high-powered devices, nor are there requirements for training for non- medical, non-industrial devices.