The Minamata Convention on Mercury, a program of the United Nations with delegates from at least 150 countries, is dedicated to improving global health by phasing out the use of mercury in manufacturing, banning new mercury mines, and limiting mercury emissions. Last month, 147 countries (out of a global total of 195) agreed to phase out florescent lighting globally and completely by 2027.
According to the appliance efficiency non-profit, CLASP, the phase out will, between 2027 and 2050:
- Avoid 2.7 gigatons of CO2 emissions,
- Eliminate 158 tons of mercury pollution, both from the light bulbs themselves and from avoided mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants,
- Save US$1.13 trillion on electricity bills.
Early fluorescent lamps were being tested by Thomas Edison and Nicola Tesla in the 1890s, but it took several advances before they were ready for commercial use around the 1940s. According to the Department of Energy, by 1951 more light was being produced in the US by fluorescent lamps than by incandescent lamps. But, this always came at a cost. Fluorescent lamps work by passing an electric current through gaseous mercury, which emits ultraviolet light, which in turn is converted to visible light by the phosphors that line the fluorescent tube. When discarded (and eventually broken) the mercury would enter the environment, which is why the EPA began encouraging fluorescent lamp recycling and mercury recovery in the mid-2000s. Mercury is a neurotoxin, and symptoms of prolonged and/or acute exposures include:
- Emotional changes (such as mood swings, irritability, nervousness, excessive shyness)
- Neuromuscular changes (such as weakness, muscle atrophy, twitching)
- Poor performance on tests of mental function
So, after around 70 years as the dominant commercial light source, and 10 years of decline after the introduction of LEDs, the fluorescent lamp has joined kerosene, whale oil, and others as an historical or legacy light source.
On April 23rd the CIE (Commission Internationale de l´Eclairage) published a position statement on so-called Blue Light Hazard. Given the amount of press this phrase has received and the responses, such as the AMA Policy H-135.927 Human and Environmental Effects of Light Emitting Diode (LED) Community Lighting, which was refuted by the IES and the LRC, it’s a timely piece.
The position statement makes a couple of key points. The first is that the phrase itself “has been inaccurately used to represent the risk of actual eye damage and the influence on general well-being. The term ‘blue light hazard’ should only be used when considering the photochemical risk to the retinal tissues of the eye (technically referred to as “photomaculopathy”), usually associated with staring into bright sources, such as the sun or welding arcs”
The second point is that “There is no evidence in humans of any adverse health effects from occasional exposure to optical radiation at the exposure limits.” It’s an important position paper with links to research. Read it for yourself.
We’ve all heard about the effect blue light can have on our circadian rhythms. It can suppress the release of melatonin, which can delay sleep and reduce sleep quality with possible long-term health consequences. Circadian disruption has been associated with depression and increased risk of diseases such as diabetes, obesity and cancer.
Back in 2016 the AMA released a report recommending night-time outdoor lighting have a color temperature no higher than 3000 K to limit night-time exposure to blue light. That report was quickly criticized by the Lighting Research Center and the IES, among others, as I noted here and here. One of the key criticisms was that correlated color temperature is a poor measure of spectral content and says nothing about the amount of energy in the wavelength range that affects our circadian rhythms. A better measurement is melanopic content, which isn’t discussed in the report.
Last year Apple unveiled a feature in their OS and iOS called Night Shift. When enabled it causes the color of the display to become warmer in the evening. The assumption, the same as the AMA’s, is that warmer light has less blue so it won’t impact melatonin production.
A recently published paper in Lighting Research & Technology looked at the effectiveness of Night Shift. This preliminary study suggests that “changing the spectral composition of self-luminous displays without changing their brightness settings may be insufficient for preventing impacts on melatonin suppression.” Even when Night Shift was used, the devices still suppressed melatonin production. The authors noted that, “it is not known how this amount of suppression induces circadian disruption, delays sleep or affects health. Larger, more comprehensive epidemiological studies should investigate how the long-term use of these self-luminous displays affects people, especially adolescents and children.”
While additional studies are clearly needed, it provides additional evidence that lower CCT alone is probably not enough. With our display devices we should also lower the brightness.
I’ve just learned about a study conducted last year for the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA). In a randomized trial 39 NYCHA sites received additional night-time lighting for 6 months, while 38 sites received no additional lighting. The study showed these reductions in crimes:
Index crimes: 7% reduction in overall index crimes (day and night). This reduction in overall index crimes was driven by a 39% reduction in index crimes that took place outdoors at night.
Felony crimes: 5% reduction in overall felony crimes (day and night). This reduction in overall felony crimes was driven by a 30% reduction in felony crimes that took place outdoors at night.
Assault, homicide and weapons crimes: 2% reduction in overall assault, homicide, and weapons crimes (day and night). This reduction in overall assault, homicide and weapons crimes was driven by a 12% reduction in assault, homicide and weapons crimes that took place outdoors at night.
Misdemeanor crimes: No detectable change in net misdemeanor crimes in treatment communities.
The results of other studies have been mixed, but I’m not clear if they were controlled, randomized studies.
The disappointing thing, from a lighting designer’s perspective, is the data that’s missing. The report tells us the fixture wattage and lumen output, but doesn’t tell us the area covered or measure the increased light levels. Instead it treats light fixtures as fixed items and counts them per square block. This method would be fine if the world had only one type of outdoor fixture, but it doesn’t So more light is better, but it doesn’t say how much more or what the upper limit should be.
Recently, the Illuminating Engineering Society (IES) and Center for Lighting Enabled Systems & Applications (LESA) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institutesponsored a workshop to explore pathways to define and promote the adoption of lighting systems specifically for healthcare environments. The aim of the workshop was to initiate an important discussion among diverse stakeholders on the changes in modern healthcare interior lighting applications. The result is the release of a white paper detailing the outcomes and contributions of the participants.
Source: Transforming Patient Healthcare and Well-being Through Lighting | IES
Last year the AMA issued Policy H-135.927 Human and Environmental Effects of Light Emitting Diode (LED) Community Lighting, which recommended, among other things, that LED outdoor lighting should have a CCT of 3000 K or below. The AMA made this recommendation thinking that lower correlated color temperatures contain less blue light, which can disrupt circadian rhythms.
Today the IES issued a Position Statement disputing that recommendation, noting that CCT
is inadequate for the purpose of evaluating possible health outcomes; and that the recommendations target only one component of light exposure (spectral composition) of what are well known and established multi-variable inputs to light dosing that affect sleep disruption, including the quantity of light at the retina of the eye and the duration of exposure to that light. A more widely accepted input to the circadian system associated with higher risk for sleep disruption and associated health concerns is increased melanopic content, which is significantly different than CCT. LED light sources can vary widely in their melanopic content for any given CCT; 3000 K LED light sources could have higher relative melanopic content than 2800 K incandescent lighting or 4000 K LED light sources, for example.
Follow the link to read the entire Position Statement. Blue light hazard, light’s impact on circadian rhythms and overall health, and related topics are a hot area of research. We’re learning more all the time, but we don’t yet know enough to apply circadian lighting to every situation. Outdoor and street lighting are among the areas where research is not yet conclusive.
You may remember that in June of last year the American Medical Association (AMA) released a report called “Human and Environmental Effects of Light Emitting Diode (LED) Community Lighting.” The report made some noise in the general press because it supported the idea that blue light from blue-pump white LEDs contribute to disability glare and retinal damage.
In the lighting community there was a considerable amount of frustration and anger over the report for several reasons. First, there were quite a few references cited that were either hearsay, such as a New York Times article about Brooklyn residents who didn’t like their new LED street lights, or were irrelevant, such as several articles about the effect of skyglow on nesting turtles. The other reason was that there was not a single lighting designer or researcher on the panel. Overall, it was a poorly researched paper that didn’t deserve the attention it received.
Shortly after it was issued, the Lighting Research Center at RPI issued a response paper. On March 15 the authors of that paper held a webinar to further address the AMA report. A video of that webinar is now available. If you’ve got an hour, take a look.
The key takeaways regarding the hazard of blue light from LEDs and the report are:
- The criteria of blue light hazard for retinal damage is much more than just color temperature, and includes the source size, intensity per unit area on the retina, and SPD of the light source.
- Disability glare is not a function of light source SPD, as the AMA paper suggests, although discomfort glare is. Short wavelengths increase discomfort glare.
- Color temperature is the wrong measurement to determine whether or not a light source will affect the circadian system and melatonin production because color temperature does not provide complete SPD information. For example, some 3,000 K LEDs can have a greater impact than 4,000 K LEDs.
- The criteria of blue light hazard for circadian disruption from a light source include – the intensity, duration of exposure, timing of exposure, and SPD.
News stories generated by the American Medical Association’s (AMA) community guidance on street lighting has elevated the topic of LED street lighting and its potential effects on health and the environment in the public’s mind. Discussions of these issues have many misperceptions and mischaracterizations of the technical information, and the difference between what has and hasn’t been scientifically established is often blurred.
DOE has assembled a variety of resources on the topic, to provide accurate, in-depth information that clarifies the current state of scientific understanding.
Source: Street Lighting and Blue Light | Department of Energy
Here’s an article from today’s New York Times that gives a good overview of the relationship between light, especially morning light, and physical and mental health.
Source: Yes, Your Sleep Schedule is Making You Sick – The New York Times
Almost as if on cue, Philips Lighting is hosting a webinar on light and health presented by Mariana Figuerro, the Light and Health Program Director at Lighting Research Center. I attended one of her in-person seminars earlier this year and I can say that she does a great job of explaining what aspects of light and health we can integrate into our practice now, and what aspects need additional research. You can read more about the webinar here, or go straight to the registration page here.