by Juliana Kenny
The American Medical Association Council on Science and Public Health recently released a report detailing the health impacts of light emitting diodes (LEDs) that emit excessive amounts of blue light. The Council reviewed the hazards of LEDs that emit heavy amounts of blue light; exposure to “blue-rich white light” can lead to increased risks for cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.
The report, titled Human and Environmental Effects of Light Emitting Diode Community Lighting, presents new information about the risks of exposure to LEDs, and also provides insight on the environmental downsides of LEDs — somewhat ironic findings given that LEDs have been championed as more environmentally sustainable lighting than traditional bulbs.
Blue-rich white LED street lighting can be five times more disruptive to humans’ sleep cycles than conventional street lighting. The International Dark-Sky Association has been warning of these hazards for years now. Phys.org quotes the IDA’s Executive Director J. Scott Feierabend:
The AMA’s study not only provides additional rigorous scientific evidence to buttress IDA’s longstanding efforts to raise awareness of the potential hazards of blue-rich light, but also speaks to the bold leadership that the medical community has consistently demonstrated on this critical human health and environmental issue.
Indeed, this week, the IDA issued its own reaction to the AMA’s findings, citing that blue-rich white LED lighting is about 2.5 times more light-polluting than traditional high-pressure sodium light fixtures.
In regards to health, a Harvard report supports the AMA’s findings:
Blue wavelengths—which are beneficial during daylight hours because they boost attention, reaction times, and mood—seem to be the most disruptive at night…It’s not exactly clear why nighttime light exposure seems to be so bad for us. But we do know that exposure to light suppresses the secretion of melatonin, a hormone that influences circadian rhythms, and there’s some experimental evidence (it’s very preliminary) that lower melatonin levels might explain the association with cancer.
These findings intensify the debate on using LED lights for street lighting, and coincide with a report from Research and Markets that says that LED development is driving the growth of the European automotive lighting market:
European automotive manufacturers such as BMW and Audi have used laser headlights in their range of BMW i8 and the Audi R8 LMX series. In addition, government regulations to reduce CO2 emission from vehicle would further drive the adoption of LED lighting sources among European automakers.
It appears as though LED light usage is on the rise regardless of whether it’s good for humans’ circadian rhythms. As with most advice from the medical community, it will likely be a while before it is taken into consideration by governments and the private sector.