The use of light emitting diodes (LEDs) has increased substantially over the last few years, with some noteworthy adverse effects. Specifically, the effect that LED street lighting is having on nighttime vision and people’s sleep cycles is especially harmful. To reduce the detrimental effects of high-intensity LED lighting, the American Medical Association (AMA) felt the need to make a formal statement and adopt an official policy.
LED Street Lights – Benefits versus Dangers
LED technology has become popular for several good reasons. It makes us less reliant on fossil fuels and saves us money when compared to traditional lighting. Furthermore, it improves upon incandescent bulbs and fluorescent lighting because LEDs do not contain mercury and do not emit mercury into the environment.
On the other hand, certain LEDs have a color temperature (CT) up to 6,500 degrees Kelvin (K). With a higher CT measure, the light appears whiter. But this also means that the light has a higher level of short-wavelength blue light, which can be very harmful to the human eye and the brain.
Here’s what the AMA has to say about new “white” LED street lights and sleep disorders:
High-intensity LED lighting designs emit a large amount of blue light that appears white to the naked eye and create worse nighttime glare than conventional lighting. Discomfort and disability from intense, blue-rich LED lighting can decrease visual acuity and safety, resulting in concerns and creating a road hazard.
In addition to its impact on drivers, blue-rich LED streetlights operate at a wavelength that most adversely suppresses melatonin during night. It is estimated that white LED lamps have five times greater impact on circadian sleep rhythms than conventional street lamps. Recent large surveys found that brighter residential nighttime lighting is associated with reduced sleep times, dissatisfaction with sleep quality, excessive sleepiness, impaired daytime functioning and obesity.
In an unrelated study, researchers out of University of California (UC)-Irvine’s campus discovered that LEDs contain lead, arsenic and a dozen other potentially dangerous substances. Specifically, “white” light LEDs contain large amounts of nickel, which causes allergic reactions in one out of five persons. In addition, the same study discovered that low-intensity red LEDs contained up to eight times the amount of lead, a known neurotoxin, allowed by California state law.
Safety Recommendations for LEDs
The AMA recommends that outdoor lighting at night, particularly street lighting, should have a CT measure no greater than 3000 K. The organization’s press announcement on the topic elaborates:
Recognizing the detrimental effects of poorly-designed, high-intensity LED lighting, the AMA encourages communities to minimize and control blue-rich environmental lighting by using the lowest emission of blue light possible to reduce glare. The AMA recommends an intensity threshold for optimal LED lighting that minimizes blue-rich light. The AMA also recommends all LED lighting should be properly shielded to minimize glare and detrimental human health and environmental effects, and consideration should be given to utilize the ability of LED lighting to be dimmed for off-peak time periods.
The AMA’s goal was to address the potential effect that outdoor LED lighting is having on public safety and health. Yet, it’s smart to consider the potential effects that LED lights throughout your home, including your LED mobile devices, are having on your circadian rhythm and eye health.
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