UK Council Announces That LEDs Do Not Cause Blindness

FEARS that “eco-friendly” LED lights may cause blindness have been played down by council chiefs.

Spanish research suggests that blue LED light can irreparably damage the cells in the eye’s retina. But experts at Derbyshire County Council – which is to install LED bulbs in nearly 70,000 street lights – say people should not be worried. Mike Ashworth, strategic director for transport, said other reports concluded “the intensities used within street lighting are insufficient to cause harm”.

Dr. Celia Sánchez-Ramos, of Complutense University in Madrid and who led the study, explained that light from LEDs 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.  ‘Eyes are not designed to look directly at light — they are designed to see with light,’ Sánchez-Ramos said.

Her comments are partly based on her 2012 study that was published in the journal Photochemistry and Photobiology. The study found that LED radiation caused significant damage to human retinal pigment epithelial cells in vitro. Sánchez-Ramos added that modern humans have their eyes open for roughly 6,000 hours a year, and are exposed to artificial light for the majority of that time.

If the problem reported by this research is real, and caused by LED light directly striking the retina, then most LED street lighting applications should be ok – people are not continually looking up into the light and the intensity is very low.

Dark Patches

Earlier this year, the council decided to stop replacing some lamps that had burned out and to turn off 40,000 street lights between midnight and 5.30am to save money. To date, about 7,000 have been altered to this “part night lighting” programme.

As a result of yesterday’s cabinet decision, that programme will now be stopped – and the remaining 33,000 street lights will be switched to LED lighting.

Many of the fittings that end up with LED lighting will be dimmed by 50%, from midnight to 5am, to save more money.

Mrs Dixon, the cabinet member for transport, said some areas will be excluded from this – such as places with a high crime rate, accident blackspots and sheltered housing accommodating vulnerable people.

Read more about the LED street light replacement program.

With contributions by Julie Allen

24 Oct