Rebuttal To C. J. Abraham’s Article

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Mr. Abraham, in his lengthy discussion of the impending installation of LED streetlights in the Village of Great Neck (“Responding to LED Street Lighting Issues,” Oct. 25), does his best to downplay any concerns about the possible health risks of these lights. During the past two years, I have undertaken an extensive review of the research concerning LED lights. What Judy Shore Rosenthal and I have presented to the Village of Great Neck (VGN ) government (and to other elected leaders) is information from professional articles written by doctors, scientists and engineers. It is clear from the accumulated research that blue-rich light constitutes a hazard to human health.

In 2011, a multidisciplinary task force organized by the French government concluded: “LEDs provide retinal exposures to violet, indigo and blue light at much higher levels compared to previous light sources. This is the first time that the population will be exposed to such substantial blue light. Might such retinal exposure induce increased macular degeneration? Aggravation of glaucoma neuropathy? Perturbations of circadian cycles? Nobody can say today, but when analyzing all the knowledge that has been accumulating on blue-light hazards, we cannot rule out a yet-undiscovered risk posed by chronic, daylong, lifetime exposure since this exposure may not induce any visible changes, but may cumulatively induce photoreceptor loss.”

Mayor Bral has called me a fearmonger. Given the statement above, I think my fears are justified.

According to Dr. Gregory Good, who wrote a position paper for the American Optometric Association in 2014, “Blue-light damage to the retina has research support from studies with both acute and chronic exposure.” He further states that such damage is cumulative in nature. He even cautions dental professionals to consider wearing protective glasses to minimize the damage they may cause to their eyes from continued exposure to blue-rich light (from certain dental equipment). Similarly, he urges eye doctors to use special filters for their instruments to prevent blue light from impinging on the retinas of patients.

Now, I will turn my focus to Mr. Abraham. Despite his claimed expertise, Mr. Abraham has gotten a few key points wrong, and has shown major flaws in his understanding of basic physics.

1. Yes, the white LED lights are comprised of blue-wavelength light with phosphors added to produce other colors. When taken together, the combination of different types of light is perceived by human beings as white light. However, contrary to what Mr. Abraham has stated, all the different wavelengths still exist: none are canceled out—none disappear. This principle is taught in high school physics. How Mr. Abraham, as an engineer, can get this wrong is totally beyond my comprehension.

2. Contrary to what Mr. Abraham states, according to our mayor, 4000K lights will be installed at every intersection, not limited to main thoroughfares. My rough estimate is that about one-third of all lights will be 4000K. Once again, 3000K is the limit recommended by the American Medical Association. This recommendation is based on scientific research and mathematical calculation. My discussions with a sales rep from Leotek (the lighting manufacturer) indicate that the 4000K lights offer no advantage to us in Great Neck at all.

3. Yes, LED lights are being installed seemingly everywhere. How long might it take before medical complaints start? I don’t think anyone knows. All we know is that blue-rich light is dangerous
in two ways: it disrupts the sleep cycle and damages the retina—these are scientific facts. Because we are in a brand-new era, we cannot predict how and if negative impacts on health
will occur as a result of exposure to LED lights. However, scientific evidence collected over decades indicates that a cautious approach is warranted. The fact that no one has reported (according to Abraham) negative health effects after a couple of years of intermittent exposure is totally irrelevant.

4. Many people are not out and about at night, but many are. I walk my dogs every night, along with many, many others, so I’d obviously have exposure on a nightly basis.
As I mentioned, the effects of
exposure are cumulative, so I’m worried.

5. Yes, many of our electronic devices emit blue-rich light. What this means is that there are more problems to deal with. It doesn’t mean we should ignore the potential risks of LED streetlights. These must be assessed and dealt with independently of any other risks in our environment. Each poses a separate problem. In fact, software and hardware are now available for many of our devices to minimize the emission of blue-rich light.

6. Abraham uses the same faulty reasoning with respect to breast cancer as have Mayor Bral and the VGN Board of Trustees. Just because there are many causes of cancer does not mean that we should not consider the potential effects of LED lights. Each issue needs to be considered independently.

7. Abraham cites a 1981 statement by Dr. Charles Czeisler, which is before these new LED bulbs were even invented. In addition, he does not interpret the statement properly. The point here is that the new LED lights mimic daylight. At night, therefore, they can be particularly disruptive. In a Feb. 10, 2017 statement in The New York Times, Dr. Czeisler said that with the proliferation of LED lights, “The whole temporal world has turned upside down.”

8. Mr. Abraham talks about how many other cities have installed these lights, as has Mayor Bral. I do not care how many others are using these lights. We have a long history in this country of people using products that are unsafe, sometimes for decades, until the dangers are finally exposed. Just think of lead paint, asbestos, talcum powder and, more recently, artificial turf. Our government initially provided little to no guidance for the consumer regarding these products—in some cases, government agencies have actually encouraged their use, as they are doing with LED lights. Will these LED lights join that list? Only time and long-term research studies will tell.

9. Mr. Abraham urges us as residents to treat each other with respect. I hope he has mentioned this to Mayor Bral and the Board of Trustees as well. They have an unfortunate and uncalled-for tendency to be abrasive and insulting toward people who disagree with them. This attitude does not encourage open and civil discourse.

To sum up, everyone is jumping on the LED bandwagon because of presumed cost and energy savings, without properly considering long-term health risks. Looking back at all the articles I have read in professional physics and engineering journals, not one of them discussed potential health risks. I wouldn’t have expected them to do so. Several years ago, the medical profession finally took notice that these lights contain mostly blue-wavelength light, and now the doctors are raising red flags based on decades of medical research on blue light. In response, engineers are working to create improved versions
of these lights that will hopefully be safer than the current ones. Mr. Abraham’s lengthy discussion does nothing to rebut the scientific evidence.

We cannot predict, at this point in time, the real risk associated with the presence of LED lights, either indoors or outdoors, because there has been no opportunity to study such risks over the long term. As Laura Weinberg, of the Great Neck Breast Cancer Coalition, has recently stated, “Under the precautionary principle, the introduction of new products and processes into the public domain whose ultimate health risks are suspect should be resisted until all the evidence is in, notwithstanding the pressure from industry salesmen and lobbyists.”

To his credit, Mayor Bral has responded to some of the points Judy Shore Rosenthal and I have brought to his attention. However, I still think our best option is to wait for new products to come to market before taking any action. If he still insists on going ahead, I urge him to use 3000K (or lower) bulbs throughout the village.

For many years, Amy Glass was a copy editor for the American Institute of Physics, where she read hundreds of articles on the development of LED technology. For two decades prior, she was as an independent consultant with extensive experience in the areas of statistics, research and computer/information technology.

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