By Leon Korobow
Dr. Carl J. Abraham, a resident of the Village of Great Neck (VGN) who has scientific credentials and operates a scientific and safety consulting firm, wrote “Responding to LED Street Lighting Issues” in the Oct. 25 issue. In his article, he explained why he believes that VGN’s LED streetlight program does not present a significant threat to the health of Great Neck residents. Abraham stated that the light-emitting diodes that produce blue light are coated with phosphors that convert the light into white light of varying shades depending on the thickness of the coating. Abraham concluded that the LEDs being used in the Great Neck project contain only a small amount of light that is in the blue spectrum and emit far less blue light than other light sources in the environment. He also noted that sleep patterns can be influenced by all types of lighting. I happen to agree with Abraham’s conclusions.
Subsequently, another village resident, Amy Glass, wrote “Rebuttal to C. J. Abraham’s Article” in the Nov. 8 edition, in which Glass argues that “blue-rich light is dangerous in two ways: It disrupts the sleep cycle and damages the retina.” Glass reportedly has worked as a copy editor for the American Institute of Physics and as a research consultant in statistics and computer technology. Glass raises many red flags regarding LED lighting but, in my opinion, her arguments rest on shaky footing. Here’s why.
At the outset, Glass focuses on a French Government report issued in 2011 which states, “We cannot rule out a yet undiscovered risk posed by chronic, daylong, lifetime exposure (to LED lights) since this exposure may not induce any visible changes but may cumulatively induce photo receptor (retinal) loss.” Another quoted report (published in 2014) from a medical professional states, “Blue-light damage to the retina has research support from studies with both acute and chronic exposure.” I ask: Does it make sense to suggest that the village’s LED lighting program will expose residents to chronic, daylong, acute, lifetime exposure? I don’t think so. Moreover, according to Abraham, the planned Great Neck LEDs are not particularly “blue-rich” in regard to light wavelength.
I believe it is important to recognize that residents’ exposure to the LED streetlights being installed in VGN will be intermittent, indirect and could not be characterized as intense. The new lights will be installed high on the sail, far above street level and play downward in a precisely controlled, predetermined arc or circle. As I see it, this differential picture simply does not match up with the exposure described by the experts quoted by Glass in her article. It seems to me that this discrepancy by itself is sufficient to undercut her entire case that the new LED lighting involves some sort of health risk. But there is more.
The research that Glass relies on does not describe the equipment that was used, does not define “blue-rich” lighting, does not describe the intensity of the lights used (in terms of lumens emitted) and arises from investigations that are outdated in the fast-moving world of technological change. At a recent village board meeting, an outside medical professional called in by Glass and her friends testified that the problem with LED streetlights is that they can’t be dimmed. This person was unaware that the new lighting system will be dimmable by village authorities, broadly and selectively, as well as shaded—a hugely important factor that Glass has ignored.
Glass also ignores the LED lighting experience we have had at the Parkwood sports facility and with the elaborate stage-lighting equipment at many Park District shows. In a community where eye examinations are frequent and widespread, no adverse medical effects traceable to LED lighting have surfaced, just as Abraham has pointed out more broadly and Glass dismisses summarily.
Glass states that the new LEDs are designed to mimic sunlight. This doesn’t seem true, since the shade of white can be controlled. Further, LED light does not emit ultraviolet light, a hazard contained in sunlight.
It seems to me that the village’s LED streetlight project represents a major leap forward toward improving pedestrian and vehicular safety, which is badly needed. It has the added benefits of producing highly consistent and efficiently controlled lighting at greatly reduced energy usage and, therefore, greatly reduced cost both to the village and the environment. In my opinion, the case advanced by Glass is too ambiguous and flawed to take seriously at this time.