LEDs: Good for the Earth, Bad for Your Health?

One of the biggest trends in sustainability these days is replacing traditional light bulbs with LED bulbs. They last for many years, save electricity, and are cost-effective, but are they worth the negative health effects? 

  • LED bulbs emit blue light, which has been shown to have negative effects on melatonin production that regulates our sleep cycle, particularly from white LED bulbs. The American Health Association has issued warnings in regard to white LED street lights, which not only has a strong glare that can damage eyesight, but also disrupts our circadian rhythm.
  • The disruptions to circadian rhythms (our internal body clock) and melatonin production are linked to diabetes, cancer, obesity, insomnia, mood disorders, and heart disease.
  • This type of bright light can affect birds' migratory patterns and some shore-nesting aquatic animals. http://darksky.org/light-pollution/wildlife/
  • LED light can cause damage to the retina and severe glare, making it more dangerous to drive at night.
  • LED bulbs contain toxic hazards, such as lead, arsenic, and many more, and breakages should be treated as hazardous waste.
  • The copper found in LEDs can poison aquatic life if it builds up in rivers and lakes.
  • Light pollution is growing at an epidemic rate. Here is a map of North America's sky brightness, where 80% of people can no longer see the Milky Way.

Even still, LED light bulbs are still the most environmentally friendly option, so what can we do about the downsides?
  • Make use of apps that apply an orange or red filter over your phone and computer screen. You can also buy films to apply over the screens, including your television.
  • Expose yourself to lots of bright light during the day to remind your body to be awake at daytime and sleepy at nighttime.
  • Lobby for LED makers to use safer materials in their bulbs.
  • Support research for safer and greener lighting technology.
  • Use candles and dim lighting at night, and turn off lights you aren’t using.
  • Challenge the idea that lighting reduces crime. There’s some evidence that it actually increases crime since criminals have an easier time seeing what they’re doing.
  • Use red or orange tinted light outdoors, and make sure your exterior lights point down to reduce effects on wildlife.