Industry Responds to AMA LED Streetlight Warning

Industry Responds to AMA LED Streetlight Warning

The lighting industry responded with some disagreement to the specifics of the AMA guidance.

Last week, the American Medical Association issued a guidance for communities on selecting among LED lighting options to "minimize potential harmful human and environmental effects." The AMA's notice stated that high-intensity LED lighting designs emit a large amount of blue light that appears white to the naked eye and create worse nighttime glare than conventional lighting. "Discomfort and disability from intense, blue-rich LED lighting can decrease visual acuity and safety, resulting in concerns and creating a road hazard," the statement read.

The lighting industry responded with some disagreement to the specifics of the AMA guidance. The Illuminating Engineering Society announced that it was not consulted in the process, noting that "of primary concern to the IES is the potential for this report and its ensuing press to misinform the public with incomplete or inaccurate claims and improper interpretations."

The National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) responded that the AMA recommendation encouraging the use of 3,000K correlated color temperature (CCT) or lower may compromise the ability of the lighting system to meet all critical design criteria for each unique application. "NEMA questions the wisdom of assigning significant weight to this recommendation since outdoor lighting design requires a complex analysis of many criteria."

Jim Brodrick of the Department of Energy posted a response as well, which the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy issued as a fact sheet. Brodrick noted that while the AMA's guidance is intended to reduce the harmful human and environmental effects of street lighting in general, it focuses on LEDs in particular. "But it's important to note that these issues are neither new nor restricted to LED technology.

As explained in the DOE Fact Sheet True Colors, he wrote, there's nothing inherently different about the blue light emitted by LEDs; that is, at the same power and wavelength, electromagnetic energy is the same, regardless of source type. And as the potential for undesirable effects from exposure to light at night emerges from evolving research, the implications apply to all light sources – including, but by no means limited to, LEDs. Further, these research results are often also relevant to light we receive from televisions, phones, computer displays, and other such devices.

Following are excerpts from the agencies' responses:

Reviewing the Report

To the IES Membership:

On June 14, 2016, the American Medical Association (AMA) announced its adoption of recommendations contained in CSAPH Report 2-A-16 entitled Human and Environmental Effects of Light Emitting Diode (LED) Community Lighting.”  This report was approved as part of the AMA’s Council on Science and Public Health (CSPAH) proceedings. The IES was not consulted in this process. 

The adopted AMA recommendations in this report are:

1. That our American Medical Association (AMA) support the proper conversion to community-based Light Emitting Diode (LED) lighting, which reduces energy consumption and decreases the use of fossil fuels. (New HOD [AMA's House of Delegates policy-making body] Policy)

2. That our AMA encourage minimizing and controlling blue-rich environmental lighting by using the lowest emission of blue light possible to reduce glare. (New HOD Policy)

3. That our AMA encourage the use of 3,000K or lower lighting for outdoor installations such as roadways. All LED lighting should be properly shielded to minimize glare and detrimental human and environmental effects, and consideration should be given to utilize the ability of LED lighting to be dimmed for off-peak time periods. (New HOD Policy)

Since the AMA’s adoption of this report, several news channels and websites are carrying reports with varying degrees of information and misinformation about the claims and recommendations within the report specific to recommendations 2 and 3, and the accompanying AMA press release. Of primary concern to the IES is the potential for this report and its ensuing press to misinform the public with incomplete or inaccurate claims and improper interpretations.  We intend to respond to this through a proper analysis, in keeping with the IES Mission Statement, “to improve the lighted environment by bringing together those with lighting knowledge and by translating that knowledge into actions that benefit the public.”

We are working with a group of researchers familiar with these issues, representing different institutions and areas of practice, to review the AMA report. Read full statement.

Questioning Wisdom

NEMA is a long-time proponent of good quality lighting design and application with technical standards and guidance for manufacturers and their end-use customers. The American Medical Association's community guidance on LED outdoor lighting is aligned with lighting manufacturers' long-standing recommendations on how to design safe and efficient ​light for night.

The AMA makes further recommendations regarding the spectral content of outdoor lighting installations that raise serious concerns for electrical manufacturers. NEMA agrees that spectral content should be one factor in effective lighting for outdoor installations. However, a single solution is simply not appropriate for all situations. NEMA also questions the wisdom of assigning significant weight to this recommendation since outdoor lighting design requires a complex analysis of many criteria. Outdoor lighting systems will vary depending on the application and local conditions. Tradeoffs in the considerations of visibility, environmental impacts, energy efficiency, cost, personal safety and security need to be optimized, which cannot be achieved with a single solution. Read full statement.

Get the Facts

As explained in the DOE Fact Sheet True Colors, there's nothing inherently different about the blue light emitted by LEDs; that is, at the same power and wavelength, electromagnetic energy is the same, regardless of source type. And as the potential for undesirable effects from exposure to light at night emerges from evolving research, the implications apply to all light sources – including, but by no means limited to, LEDs. Further, these research results are often also relevant to light we receive from televisions, phones, computer displays, and other such devices.

While there's nothing inherently dangerous about LED lighting, it should be used with the same prudence with which we use any other technology. This means that although LED lighting is an energy-efficient way to illuminate streets, it's important to direct the light only where it's needed; to make sure the emitted spectrum supports visibility, safety, and the health of humans and other living creatures; and to limit glare for pedestrians, bicyclists, and drivers.

In that regard, LEDs have a number of distinct advantages over other lighting technologies. For one thing, their dimmability means LED street lighting systems can now provide only the level of illumination needed at any given time – which is nearly impossible for conventional street lighting products. And LEDs also offer a high degree of control over the pattern and evenness of light on the ground. By contrast, conventional lamp-based technologies produce light in all directions, so more than half of the output is typically redirected toward the desired target by means of reflectors and lenses. This results in a considerable amount of light spilling in unwanted directions and spreading unevenly across the area, which not only wastes energy but may also cause light-at-night problems, such as impacts on wildlife. Read full statement....

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