Graduate School

The Adverse Effects of LED Technology

Photo courtesy of Eddie Poe

Light emitting diodes (LED) technology is becoming a new and innovative way to brighten our communities, but not without the potential of harmful effects on both humans and the environment.

While new LED technology can lead to cost and energy savings and less reliance on fossil based fuels, the American Medical Association says that efforts to fully convert from older streetlights to blue-rich LED streetlights are rapidly accelerating.

“I’m deeply concerned about the misinformation and confusion among city staff regarding LED lights,” Cynthia Malicki said to the Parks and Recreation Board. “I’m also concerned with the education that is being presented to community members and whether they’re receiving the necessary facts.”

Malicki, who is a retired nurse and community activist in the city of Phoenix, says she was first brought to the attention of the many concerns of LED lighting after reading an op-ed piece on the International Dark-Sky Association’s website (IDA) in June 2015.

The IDA, a non-profit organization that works to help stop light pollution, provided her with information on the detrimental effects of blue-rich LED streetlights.

“According to the American Medical Association, 4000 Kelvin LED streetlights have negative health effects on humans,” Malicki said. “They can prevent the pineal gland from developing melatonin and they can increase the risk of diabetes, cancer, hypertension, insomnia and anxiety.”

Roger Peck, Chairman of the Board for the City of Phoenix Parks and Recreation Department, says the issue is one that is being driven by what he feels are far too early of findings.

“LED streetlights are still very new technology,” Peck said. “The AMA tells us that only about 10 percent of existing street lights have been converted to LED technology, and that number is even smaller here in Phoenix.”

Even though the Parks and Recreation board have been pressed on the issue by Malicki and others since June 2015, Peck says that more public concern is perhaps the only way a transition will be made.

“While I appreciate Mrs. Malicki’s activism, this is hardly an issue that we can just quickly transition out of,” he said. “If more people of Phoenix continue to voice their concerns, then we’ll look into making changes.”

Craig Weaver, a local industry consultant, also spoke directly to the board in favor of eliminating LED streetlights. He says that much of the public is still uninformed on the new technology and that it will take time before the harmful effects are widely known.

“There’s a learning curve on LED lights that everyone is going through,” Weaver said. “While they may not be taking any measures in the near future, it’s great that the city of Phoenix and the Parks and Recreation Department are taking a second look at the issue.”

For Weaver, his main criticism of LED lights has to do with how they affect the bodily cycles that both humans and wild life experience.

“Our bodies go through two cycles on a daily basis — one in the morning and the other at night.” he said. “Wild life in our parks experience those same two cycles.”

Malicki and Weaver share a deep concern for an issue that is increasingly growing and while their efforts have yet to be felt, they know they’re fighting against something that affects everyone.

“If you’re outside at night and are exposed to LED lighting, it disrupts that cycle and causes your body to think it’s no longer night time,” Weaver said. “I’d say that’s pretty problematic for people.”

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