As Elk Grove Finishes-up LED Conversion, American Medical Association Issues Warning

July 3, 2016

Like many other local government entities across the country, the City of Elk Grove has undertaken an aggressive program to convert the city's 12,000 conventional streetlights to LED lighting. With the promise of lower electricity lighting costs from the more energy-efficient and environmentally-friendly LED lights, the conversion for Elk Grove has been alluring.

While the savings to taxpayers, which in Elk Grove are estimated to be up to $400,000 annually, there are other costs associated with the lighting technology so says a new medical report. Recently the American Medical Association (AMA) released findings that offered communities guidance for installation of the lights after finding a host of negative health effects from certain types of LED lighting.

"Despite the energy efficiency benefits, some LED lights are harmful when used as street lighting," AMA Board Member Maya A. Babu, M.D., M.B.A said. "The new AMA guidance encourages proper attention to optimal design and engineering features when converting to LED lighting that minimize detrimental health and environmental effects."

Among the report's findings were that the high levels of blue light emitted from LED's, which are seen by the naked eye as white light, creates worse night time glare than the conventional lights they are replacing. "Discomfort and disability from intense, blue-rich LED lighting can decrease visual acuity and safety, resulting in concerns and creating a road hazard," the summary report says.  

Along with the effects on driver safety, the AMA says their finding show excessive blue light exposure also has negative consequences on circadian sleep rhythms as compared to conventional lighting. The report summary states "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."

And for good measure, the AMA study found the LED blue light can negatively affect wildlife. The report notes that the blue light from poorly designed LED systems can disorient birds, turtles and fish species.

To mitigate the effects, the AMA advises that communities use LED systems that emit the lowest level of blue light as possible to reduce glare.    

The International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) noted the AMA's findings bolstered their findings in a 2010 study documenting the wide-ranging negative effects of excessive blue-white lighting sources. On page 16 of that report the IDA asserted "With only a cursory familiarization with the advantages of blue-rich lighting, one might assume that the potentially lower illumination levels allowed would reduce environmental impacts to the same degree that photopic luminances were reduced. This assumption is not correct. There are substantially more deleterious effects to humans, wildlife, and astronomical resources associated with blue-rich light."

“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,” IDA Executive Director J. Scott Feierabend noted.

The studies suggested that the LED lights should be emit no more that correlated color temperature (CCT) 3000 Kelvin. The higher the CCT, the more blue light is emitted.

Elk Grove's conversion is scheduled to be completed by this August. According to specifications of the LED replacement fixtures now being installed, the City is using Noribachi LIN-030-FIN and the Truly Green Solutions LED Universal Light G4 54 which are rated at 3000, 4000 and 5700 CCT Kelvin.

Like Elk Grove, the City of  Davis undertook an LED conversion project which started in 2014. After receiving several complaints about the brightness, Davis decided to replace fixtures with 4000 CCT Kelvin color temperature with lights emitting 2700K CCT, below the maximum now recommended by the AMA.     

More information about Elk Grove's LED installation project is available here.

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