Lighting Controversy: Coming to a Town Near You?

Is Disagreement in a Midwestern City Indicative of Widespread Push-Back?

Yesterday two interesting and juxtaposed items landed in our inbox. The first was a well-worded statement from the Illuminating Engineering Society containing its updated stance on the 2016 American Medical Association (AMA) report "Human and Environmental Effects of Light Emitting Diode (LED) Community Lighting" that warned against cool-colored LED lighting. The other item was the most recent in a trilogy of well-written Letters to the Editor by a concerned midwestern citizen who opposes the forthcoming cool-colored outdoor LED lighting in his city.

We have an entire webpage dedicated to the IES statement. Below is the tale of a lighting controversy that is happening in America's heartland, but could also occur in a town near you in the very near future.

The city of Lawrence, Kansas is proactively making investments in city-wide energy-related upgrades. They are funding projects for solar panels, new heating/cooling systems and LED lighting. Of the $11.3M budget, approximately $4.4M is budgeted for the installation of LED lighting.

In recent months citizens have been expressing concern over the LED lighting - citing the 2016 American Medical Association (AMA) report that recommends warmer outdoor lighting color temperatures of 3000K or less. One particular protester, a faculty member at the University of Kansas, has written a series of Letters to the Editor to a leading local news publication, Lawrence Journal-World. Here are some excerpts:

May 22, 2017

"...exposure to blue light presents known health hazards to people and threatens the well-being of most wildlife species. Furthermore, blue-rich white LED streetlights and roadway fixtures create glare that is dangerous for motorists, pedestrians and bicyclists, potentially making our roads less safe."
June 15, 2017

Likens lighting industry statements to those of "the tobacco industry’s response to cancer research or the coal and oil industry’s response to global warming concerns.""
August 2, 2017

City officials have "chosen to listen to engineers and the lighting industry rather than doctors on questions of human health, as well as widely disseminated research on the environmental effects of this lighting with a high blue light content."

The innacuracies in the first comments really irked us. The other comments gave us pause. Upon further reflection, we realized that we were reading the letters by putting too much focus on the not-exactly-correct statements in the letters -- and not enough focus on what the average concerned citizen and city official might believe. If we, the authors of this column, weren't bulbhead lighting nerds with a passion for the art and science of illumination, would we be swayed by the AMA report to believe that >3000K outdoor lighting is categorically harmful? Probably, yes.

It's a safe bet that nearly all concerned citizens and local officials know and respect the AMA. Conversely, the average concerned citizen does not likely know much about some of the respected entities that have offered differing perspectives, information and insights on the CCT topic like the IES, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and the Lighting Research Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. The U.S. Department of Energy is certainly a large, recognizable organization, but as good as the U.S. DoE is, would the local concerned citizen be swayed by a governmental-run energy department on what they perceive to be matters of public health?

We certainly know, trust and appreciate the research and facts that each of these organizations publish, yet we can understand why non-lighting-experts defer to the caution flag raised by the AMA, over the published reports of the other organizations.

Numerous outdoor lighting manufacturers have added 3000K as a standard CCT option to outdoor products over the last year. This enables cities, towns, developments and other projects to select the product that best addresses the end user's needs, requirements and fears. We continue to follow the very smart and trusted authorities as they weigh in on these matters, and look forward to seeing the results of the continued increased collaboration that will continue among lighting scientists and health experts.

Related: IES Strengthens its Stance on AMA's Health Concerns

Related: Know the Whole Context Before Contesting LED Street Lighting Projects

Related: (Lawrence, KS) Read the first, second and third letters to the editor.

Unrelated: Naked Man Arrested Twice in One Day in Lawrence, KS

August 3, 2017