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October 11, 2010
From Newsletter October 2010
Las Vegas, NV USA
By Scott Mayerowitz & Clayton Sandell, ABC News

A solar glare specialist who was denied a contract by a Las Vegas hotel to help it solve an intense sunlight issue -- now dubbed a "death ray" by employees there -- says the casino ignored his advice and went with a cheaper fix.

"It is one thing to ask experts in their relative field for advice; it is another to ignore their advice without justification," glass film manufacturer Nichols E. Ashton wrote the builders of the Vdara hotel back in November 2008.

Today, guests lounging at the Las Vegas pool reportedly are getting burned by concentrated sun rays strong enough to melt plastic drink cups and plastic newspaper bags.

Ashton is president of SSAF International, which ultimately did not get a contract for a protective window film to fix the problem.

"They didn't like the information. They didn't want to spend the money," Ashton told ABC News Wednesday night. "They thought the issue would go away. They thought nobody would get hurt."

Gordon Absher, a spokesman for the hotel's owner, MGM Mirage, said the company placed a reflective film over the windows that blocks about 70 percent of the light. The specifications for the window film used to mitigate our convergence, those specifications were written by a solar convergence expert that was hired to evaluate the situation and recommend mitigation," Absher said. "Once bids were received, the film we installed met and exceed those specifications. The film manufactured by others, including SSAF, did not.

"It is at best a mild inconvenience," he said. "If someone notices that the temperature has increased and they mention something to our staff, we offer to move them. We offer them an umbrella. We offer them an explanation of the unique convergence we deal with there.

"No one has had to seek medical attention," he added. "We've had no one file a complaint or injury claim."  He said that Vdara is not the only building in America to have the problem.  "This is hardly a unique situation," he said.

Ashton blamed the problem on poor design, saying the building was placed in the wrong position. He said there are no "sour grapes" over being denied the contract.  Absher said the company is well aware of the lingering problem. This was the first summer of operation and he said Vdara is investigating steps to solve the solar convergence.

But for now, guests are going to have to be careful as the ray moves across the pool area.  Bill Pintas felt burning in his hair during his experience with the hot spot.  After a recent swim in the pool just after noon, he went back to his lounge chair.

"I'm sitting there in the chair and all of the sudden my hair and the top of my head are burning," Pintas told ABC News. "I'm rubbing my head and it felt like a chemical burn. I couldn't imagine what it could be."

Pintas said he shifted around, and suddenly the back of his legs were burning. He ran to a nearby umbrella but even that didn't provide cover, let alone a shadow.  "It was as bright as outside," said Pintas, a Chicago lawyer who owns a condo at the Vdara.

"I used to live in Miami and I've sat in the sun in Las Vegas 100 times. I know what a hot sun feels like and this was not it," he said. "My first inclination was thinking: Jesus we've destroyed the ozone layer because I am burning."  Bill Pintas' melted plastic newspaper bag. Pintas learned he wasn't the first person to experience the magnified sunlight. At the bar, he explained the intense heat to some employees.

"They're kind of giggling and say: 'Yeah, we know. We call it the death ray,'" Pintas said.  They told him it even melts plastic cups. A plastic Vdara bag holding Pintas' newspaper also was burned through by the sun. The black letters bearing the name Vdara had entirely melted away.

Pintas isn't the only one to experience the so-called death ray at the City Center hotel.  A reporter from the Las Vegas Review-Journal made two trips to the pool and saw the 10-foot-by-15-foot hot zone.  As the Earth rotates, the hot spot shifts across the pool area. During the summer, it was noticeable for about 90 minutes before and after noon, the reporter discovered from pool employee interviews. The ray can increase temperatures 20 degrees in the zone.

Pintas said that polyethylene newspaper bags melt at between 120 and 130 degrees. A plastic cup melts at around 160 degrees. "Because of the curved, concave shape of that hotel, they sometimes get isolated pockets of high temperatures," said Absher, the MGM Mirage spokesman.

Apparently, there is a more scientific name for the "death ray," a name that the hotel's management prefers: "solar convergence phenomenon."  The idea of a blinding light being magnified by a glass hotel in the middle of the desert shouldn't surprise anyone. That's why MGM Mirage hired consultants to evaluate the problem and find a solution. In the end, they chose a competing film that Ashton said was cheaper and inferior. With that film, the hotel acknowledged, "when folks are out on the pool deck, on some days people will feel this reflection and the heat associated with it."

Fixing the problem isn't going to be easy. As the Earth spins, the sun moves across the horizon. But as the seasons change, the angle of the Earth to the sun changes too, meaning shadows -- and in this case the hot spot -- move in a different way. Putting in one row of thick umbrellas won't solve the problem because each day they would have to be a few feet back or a few feet forward from their prior day's position. "This is quite literally an astronomical challenge," Absher said. "We are dealing with a moving target."

Right now, the hotel is looking at getting some larger, thicker umbrellas, maybe some large plants and a few other, more high-tech options, Absher said. Since the summer heat is on its way out, the hotel has a few months to find a solution. Until then, add some extra sunscreen and beware of the strong light.

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