The city administration is looking for upwards of $750,000 in savings annually with light-emitting diode (LED) technology to replace about 9,000 streetlights.
But a group known as Soft Lights warns there could be harmful side effects to the lights.
Mark Baker, a member of Soft Lights, said Ban Blinding LED picked up on the Thursday Beacon story about the cost-saving measure. Baker emailed council members, “While LED lights have advantages, there are also serious health problems associated with LED and with over-lighting. Scientists have shown that artificial light at night has increased the risk of breast cancer by as high as 33 percent. Artificial light at night is also causing sleep disorders and severely impacting the ability of wildlife to succeed.”
Baker advises that if LEDs are used they should be set for cooler color temperatures lower than what the city is considering for a Warwick system.
Baker said he immediately received return emails from Councilmen Ed Ladouceur and Anthony Sinapi looking for additional information.
In his email, Baker said the city should set the light intensity for 2,700 Kelvin – a measurement of color temperature on a scale of 1,000 to 10,000 – for business districts, along with 2,200K for residential areas and 1,800K for sensitive habitats.
“Anything over 2,700K contains dangerous levels of blue wavelength light,” Baker writes. “The absolute maximum set by the American Medical Association is 3,000K, but we have found that anything over 2,700K is uncomfortable,” he continues.
In a response, the mayor’s chief of staff, William DePasquale, writes, “We are working with several experts in the lighting industry to design a system that maximizes vehicular and pedestrian safety, while minimizing negative impacts on natural systems to the extent feasible. We anticipate that much of the lighting in residential areas will range between 2,700 and 3,000K with the ability to dim wattages for later evening hours.”
In June 2016 at its annual meeting in Chicago, the AMA issued a statement in response to the rise of LED street lighting recommending outdoor lighting at night, particularly street lighting, should have a color temperature of no greater than 3,000 Kelvin. Color temperature (CT) is a measure of the spectral content of light from a source; how much blue, green, yellow and red there is in it. A higher CT rating generally means greater blue content, and the whiter the light appears.
The light levels Baker recommends are lower than what was proposed for a citywide LED streetlight system. The city has been looking at 3,000K lights in residential areas and 4,000K on major arteries. The Kelvin can be adjusted with the system under consideration.
Baker said the danger of higher Kelvin settings is the level of blue light that is higher energy, produces glare and “kills the photoreceptors” of the eye. “It’s like a laser. The wavelength doesn’t change. This is terrible for us. It’s not what humans are designed for,” he said.
“All of the products we are currently reviewing have options for shielding to cut off light spill from unwanted areas,” DePasquale writes.
He continues, “In addition to evaluating light levels in our residential neighborhoods and sensitive habitat areas, we will be evaluating light temperatures and levels along our major vehicular thoroughfares, many of which are owned by the State of Rhode Island. The Rhode Island Department of Transportation utilizes lights with a 4,000K temperature rating on major arterial roadways. These fixtures typically have advanced optics to reduce glare and improve overall rendering of objects.”
In response to an email inquiry about the safety of LEDs, a spokesman for the RI Department of Health wrote, “There is still a lot to be learned about LED lighting. At this point, we support efforts to convert to LED lighting that adhere to current recommendations and balance public and environmental health with public safety.”
If LEDs can be harmful for streetlights and automobile headlights – there is a group that is seeking to ban the use of LED headlights – what about lights in homes? Baker says 2,700K tungsten light “is a comfortable level for homes.”
What about LEDs causing cancer? Articles found on the Internet offered conflicting conclusions.
LEDlights.org, a company that sells lights, writes in response to questions about cancer, “The answer is a bit complex, but in general it is safe to say that there is no evidence to support this. LED Lights have not been found, in any studies, to cause cancer. The main cause of cancer in any light source seems to come from exposure to UV radiation and hazardous chemicals that may be found in incandescent and fluorescent light bulbs. LED lights neither contain mercury nor do they emit ultraviolet rays, making them a less likely candidate to cause illness, when compared to the light sources that do contain cancer causing attributes.”
A story appearing in the April 25, 2018, edition of the Telegraph – the online version of the Daily Telegraph published in London – reports that an analysis of more than 4,000 people living in 11 separate regions of Spain “established a link between heavy exposure to the LED lighting and a doubling of the risk of prostate cancer, as well as a 1.5-times higher chance of breast cancer.”
It goes on to say, “The nature of the study means researchers cannot prove a causal link, but they believe the ‘blue light’ emitted by the LEDs may be disrupting the body’s circadian rhythm, which in turn affects hormone levels.”
“Both breast and prostate cancers are hormone-related. The research team at the University of Exeter and the Barcelona Institute for Global Health said their findings may also implicate the nighttime use of mobile phones and tablets, which also emit blue light, in cancer development,” it reads.
The report talks about blue light emitted by LEDs and many tablets, phones and televisions.
“It has one of the shortest, highest-energy wavelengths and previous research has indicated that exposure to blue-spectrum light decreases the production and secretion of the melatonin hormone. Melatonin plays a key role in regulating the day-night cycles and has several other key functions – for example it is a powerful anti-oxidant and has also an anti-inflammatory function,” it reads.
According to the International Dark-Sky Association website, a new law came into effect in France the first of this year that sets controls on the emission of outdoor lights not to exceed 3,000K.
The city has received two bids for LED street lights. A preferred bidder has not been selected, but when that happens the City Council will vote on the award of a contract. Last Monday, the council gave second approval to borrow $3.2 million from the Rhode Island Infrastructure Bank for the project that involves the purchase of the existing lights from National Grid and their replacement with LED lights. According to the tentative schedule, the conversion would be completed in waves with the program completed by early next year.
The administration sees the cost-saving feature of the conversion as a critical component to Mayor Joseph Solomon’s “road ways” program to spend more than $10 million on road repaving over the next three years. As the administration is hopeful of a 1.3-percent interest rate for the street light and road bonds, the street light savings alone would pay for half of the debt carrying costs of the bonds, according to Michael D’Amico, financial consultant for the administration.