Shedding Light in the Darkness

Are LED Lights Safe?


Toxic substances, melatonin suppression and maybe retina damage have all been indicated for LED lighting. Research published in the Journal of Environmental Management shows that nighttime exposure to certain types of artificial light has an even darker side than previously understood. In particular, it suppresses the body’s ability to make melatonin, the hormone that helps regulate sleep and is celebrated for its antioxidant, mood-enhancing and cancer-fighting properties.

University of Haifa Prof. Abraham Haim and colleagues found that nighttime exposure to white-light-emitting diode bulbs – which are actually blue light on the spectrum – commonly used both in outdoor and some indoor lighting suppresses the beneficial hormone’s production five times more than does high-pressure sodium bulbs that emit an orange-yellow light.

“The current migration from the now widely-used sodium lamps to white lamps will increase melatonin suppression in humans and animals,” the researchers say.

The University of Haifa researcher declared in 2008 that exposure to light at night is the most powerful factor in breast cancer besides genetic defects. Other studies have implicated it in prostate cancer and the development of nearsightedness in children, eyestrain, headaches and sleep disorders.

“Unless legislation is updated soon, with the current trend toward sources as white LEDs, which emit a huge amount of blue light, we will enter a period of elevated negative effects of light at night on human health and environment,” says physicist Fabio Falchi, of the Light Pollution Science and Technology Institute in Italy.

Melatonin-suppressing light is “dangerous only if we expose ourselves to it during the hours when we should be in the dark, and if the exposure is sufficiently intense or long.” He advises people to rely more on incandescent light after dark, especially in the bedroom.

Several health agencies, such as ANSES and the Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks (SCENIHR), have reviewed the scientific literature on photobiology hazards related to the use of LEDs and conclude that a photochemical blue light risk might exist with prolonged and repeated exposure to some cold white LEDs. Behar Cohen F., Martinsons C., Viénot F., et al. Light-emitting diodes (LED) for domestic lighting: any risks for the eye? Prog Retin Eye Res. 2011 Jul;30(4):239-57.

LED lights may damage your eyes, according to research in 2013. A study has discovered that exposure to LED lights can cause irreparable harm to the retina of the human eye. Dr. Celia Sánchez-Ramos, Professor at the Department of Optometry and Vision, at Madrid’s Complutense University, explained that light from LEDs, or light-emitting diodes, comes from the short-wave, high-energy blue and violet end of the visible light spectrum. She said that prolonged, continuous exposure to this light may be enough to damage a person’s retina.

The retina is composed of light-sensitive tissue that is responsible for detecting light and in turn allowing us to see. ‘This problem is going to get worse, because humans are living longer  and children are using electronic devices from a young age, particularly for schoolwork,’ Sánchez-Ramos told ‘Eyes are not designed to look directly at light — they are designed to see with light,’ Sánchez-Ramos said.

Her comments are based in part on a 2012 study she co-authored, published in the journal Photochemistry and Photobiology. That study found that LED radiation caused significant damage to human retinal pigment epithelial cells in vitro.

Some white light-emitting diodes (LEDs) emit a wavelength of light associated with adverse human health effects. Published in Environmental Health Perspectives, a 2014 study examined retinal changes in rats exposed to white LEDs like those sometimes used in household lighting. Retinas of rats exposed to either blue or cool white LED light showed evidence of retinal damage and cell death after 9 days of exposure.

A 2013 Scientific American article noted: “LEDs do have a dark side. A study published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology found that LEDs contain lead, arsenic and a dozen other potentially dangerous substances. LEDs are touted as the next generation of lighting,” says Oladele Ogunseitan, one of the researchers behind the study and chair of the University of California Irvine’s Department of Population Health & Disease Prevention. “But as we try to find better products that do not deplete energy resources or contribute to global warming, we have to be vigilant [about] toxicity hazards….”

Ogunseitan adds that while breaking open a single LED and breathing in its fumes wouldn’t likely cause cancer, our bodies hardly need more toxic substances floating around, as the combined effects could be a disease trigger. If any LEDs break at home, Ogunseitan recommends sweeping them up while wearing gloves and a mask, and disposing of the debris — and even the broom — as hazardous waste.

Finally, a study carried out by the University of Antwerp found that LED lights were bleaching the paint on works by Van Gogh and Cézanne.


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