LAST WEEK there was an Armchair Mayor/ CFJC column, regarding LED street lighting.
This week, there was a response letter to that column from a Softlights.org organization.
This response letter was interesting, and deserving of … a second look.
Softlight.org appears to be an American group that lobbies against the use of specific LED lights (vehicle headlights, street lamps, emergency vehicle signal lights, etc). Their attractive and information brimming website and public discussions advocate for city usages of LED light intensity, be set at 2,700 Kelvin for business districts, 2,200K for residential areas and 1,800K for sensitive habitats.
I would not disagree generally with that. There is nothing wrong with Kamloops City looking at this, and setting the new lighting to these levels, which are scientifically agreed upon by many in industry, science and government.
Where I disagree is this group’s use of the words “dangerous,” “cancer” and “LED fraud” on their website, in the response letter or in the article described below.
In January 2020, Softlight wrote to Rhode Islands Warwick City officials considering a switch to LED streetlights; “Scientists have shown that artificial light at night has increased the risk of breast cancer by as high as 33 percent.”
In addition, they state; “[elevated blue light levels] produces glare and “kills the photo-receptors” of the eye. “Its like a laser.” These statements were used as argument against LED usage.
These are at best an over reach and at worst fear mongering and alarmist as an explanation against LED lights. No LED Lights (nor any type of light) have been found, in any studies, to cause cancer on their own … period.
Any causal effects between lighting and cancer are on their own, admittedly complex.
There is a 2018 Spanish study that says “… 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 … findings may also implicate the nighttime use of mobile phones and tablets, which also emit blue light, may have a correlation in cancer development.”
Basically, that means that because we sit in bed and stare at our devices, the blue light keeps us awake, which screws with our circadian rhythm, which in the long term could alter our hormone levels, which may … may … play a role in certain cancers. A complex connection, to be sure.
That is a long way from ‘cancer causing and is a cherry pick of the facts of a study without including the details. Even though most of this study is directed towards ubiquitous personal device usage and the K colour of light they emit, Softlights.org leaps this conclusion to suggest without saying directly that all LED lights cause cancer.
Furthermore, a number of pages on their website shows us in great detail, with many graphs and diagrams, the potential “dangers” of LED light “killing photo-receptors” (the receptors at the back of the eye that receive light).
To be clear, any light, bright or close enough, can cause temporary or permanent light receptor damage within the eye. We all know that; the sun itself teaches us that lesson. The problem is Softlight’s approach assumes that a street light mounted 40 feet above our head with a diffuser, can only mean “danger.” This is a reach.
This recognition of potential harm is reminiscent of the potential eye damage caused by laser light pointed directly into the eye, a concern of the past … until people realized it’s best not to do that, and when laser light is used in the public forum (concerts, etc), rules have been established to minimize this potential. Problem solved.
LED lights are not laser lights, they are not even remotely “like a laser” as Softlights suggests. A laser generates and projects an un-shielded, and very heavily focussed coherent light wave, beam of light. LED lights are usually a non coherent light wave, shielded by diffuser and often indirect in emission design. Street lamps, for example, have transparent or translucent cover shields that diffuse the emitted light to a wider area than a LED diode can on its own. This act of redirection and diffusion severely negates the intensity that a single diode emits.
This is no “laser.”
The Softlight.org response to the Armchair Mayor/CFJC column focussed on “energy efficiency,” and quoted at length (half their letter) on citations that define energy efficiency as being “equivalent to the previous product in quality, but using less energy.” We can all accept this definition on the whole.
Softlights then asserts that LED does not inherently satisfy this definition because it is a “low quality light,” but doesn’t provide detail to back that up beyond trying to state that because LEDs are used in fibre optic cables, they don’t provide the same service, so no claim of equivalency or energy efficiency can be made, so LEDs aren’t appropriate for other uses.
Say whaaa???? Let’s move on.
In the past, early to market LED lights for home use were sharp, blue and overtly and uncomfortably bright; the industry has altered in recent years to providing more enjoyable bulbs that even look like incandescent bulbs.
We have a nice yellow warm glow set of 2,300K LED bulbs in our ceiling lights and lamps throughout our home here, and we would not say they have less “quality of light” … in fact they seem and feel exactly the same as their incandescent predecessors, and cost a fraction (10%) to operate.
Yet … we are told they don’t provide the same service. My table light would disagree with that.
Regarding the equivalency argument, a light bulb emits light. If you don’t like the light it emits … get a different lightbulb.
“Equivalency” is irrelevant.
As lightbulb users, we don’t care that LEDs are better for fibre optic cables, BECAUSE they also do just fine illuminating our dining room table with a nice soft yellow light.
Softlights then followed that up with a claim of “hydro defrauding us” to replace bulbs.… and that’s where they lost me completely.
Stepping into the fray of “Hydro defrauding” us by recommending LEDs where applicable, launches Softlights squarely into the realm of quasi conspiracy narrative, suggesting some major systemic hydro fraud to sell light bulbs, akin to governments selling Covid vaccinations on behalf of pharmaceuticals.
So … no, they lost me after agreeing that Kelvin numbers matter, and that Kamloops needs to seriously look into these new lights and their settings to ensure compliance with scientifically proven methodologies and the K numbers these lights are emitting.
Softlights.org beyond that, falls afoul the same way as all special interest lobbies; curating their facts and figures to create a “new truth” that appears parallel to scientific knowledge and methodology, but fails the sniff test of using mass media info bites and rhetorical arguments and misusing real scientific articles to do so.
One needs to ask why?
I could not find any information regarding the Softlights Foundation funding model, or if there was any industry patronage.
Their final suggestion to use High Pressure Sodium bulbs to save only 50% energy savings over incandescent, versus LED’s that save 90% … … …
Warwick Beacon – Rhode Island Media – Might bright LED steetlights have adverse effects?
Electrical and Computer Engineering Design Handbook – LED Science by Cody Chen https://sites.tufts.edu/eeseniordesignhandbook/2015/leds-technology/
European Commission – Potential risks to Human Health of LEDs
Lighting Comparison: LED vs Sodium
IES (Illuminating Engineering Society) – Environmental effects of LEDs
David Johnson is a Kamloops resident, community volunteer and self described maven of all things Canadian.