AMA Light Pollution Study Concerning Highway Safety and The Heath Hazards: By Guest Host, Mario Motta, MD, FACC

     I have been a light pollution advocate for many years. Certainly 30 years ago I was most interested in the skyglow that affects our view of the starry sky, and though that remains a major concern, I have since learned of the many medical, safety, and environmental concerns that are paramount. On an energy committee on my town, I was able to show that poorly lit intersections with severe glare by unshielded lighting had the highest accident rate.  

      Further review of published studies has shown that as the eye ages, it becomes much more sensitive to disability glare, impairing safe driving. That led to my 2009 AMA resolution that suggested that all streetlights be properly shielded to prevent such glare to make streets safer, allowing elderly to drive in the evening safer. This resolution is still cited by lighting companies.

     In 2012 knowing the research activities of many scientists in the world on the effects of night time lighting on human physiology, I invited 4 prominent researchers to help me write a CSAPH report “Light Pollution: Adverse health effects of Nighttime lighting”.

     This 27 page report with 134 peer reviewed references highlighted the adverse health effects of circadian rhythm disturbance. Suppressing melatonin production by excessive night lighting, especially blue light, leads to myriad health deleterious health effects. 

      The most stunning is an increase in certain endocrine related carcinomas. It is now well known that circadian disturbance causes a 15-20% increase in breast cancer rates, and a similar increase in prostrate cancers. Indeed, this past year (2017) the Nobel Prize in Medicine was awarded to Young, Rosbach, and Hall, the groundbreaking research that elucidated the biochemical pathways that lead to increased illnesses by melatonin suppression. Cancer rates, obesity, diabetes, metabolism issues, and immune system are all affected by melatonin suppression. The World health organization has even listed shift workers, who have repeated melatonin suppression as a “known Carcinogen, level 2”. 

      After the 2012 report came out there was some pushback from the lighting industry, however, in 2014 General Electric wrote its own “white paper” on this subject, and not only agreed with the AMA report, by liberally quoted from my report, stating that corporate policy would change to take note of melatonin production in its lighting policies and products. Shortly after that Apple developed a blue reduction in its phones and computers for late night. Many other companies have since adopted this practice. Again, with the Nobel Prize, and over 1000 peer reviewed papers, this now settled science! The last section of the 2012 report also raised the alarm that excessive outdoor blue light was also causing environmental harm, as all living creatures have a circadian rhythm, even one celled organisms!

      In the ensuing years the lighting industry has developed LED lighting with plans to replace all outdoor lighting with LED’s over the next 10 years, but were poised to use excessive blue producing 4000K LEDs. Given my 2012 paper, and many reports of environmental damage by excessive blue, I was able to move the CSAPH to let me lead on one more report “Human and Environmental  Effects of Light Emitting Diode (LED) Community Lighting” adopted at the AMA annual 2016 meeting by the HOD. This particular report hit a nerve with the lighting industry. The report actually says however that we should indeed replace outdoor lighting with LED lights to save energy, but still shield all streetlights to prevent glare, that was widely accepted. The last resolve stating that blue light should be limited in outdoor lighting and streetlights should use low blue emitting 3000K or lower color temperature led to severe consternation in the lighting industry. 

     The issue was many companies were trying to sell 4000K lighting, as those were the first type of LED’s that were manufactured. They had inventory already made. LED lights use a blue LED and coat it to absorb the blue and re-emit at lower “warmer” color temperature, eg 3000K. 4000K lighting is 30-34% blue light. The 2012 paper and thousands of studies have already shown this is bad for humans and the environment in general.  The AMA report suggested no higher than 3000K. Nowadays, there is good 2700K lighting, and even 2400K lighting as well, and the trend is lower. There is evidence that high blue leads to severe insect, bird, and mammalian effects in nature. It has even been shown to affect salmon runs, and even plankton!

     When this AMA report came out it was hailed by researchers, and many cities paused to study it closely. They came to the same conclusion, and demanded warmer 3000k or even 2700K lighting. Many companies changed their products and are now thriving, others are still fighting.  

     To date most large cities now have adopted the AMA recommendation, and in fact some (like Toronto) state in their lighting that they are “AMA Compliant Lighting” !! To date, New York, Chicago, Tucson, Phoenix, Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, Georgia, Toronto, Montreal, and many others have changed their lighting plans and demand 3000K or lower. This is helped by the fact that wherever 4000K lighting was installed, citizens immediately complained about the harsh glare bluish light.

     Some cities such as Monterey and Davis in California even sued their cities, and demanded a switch to 3000K or lower. Just a few weeks ago (March 2019), the city of Seattle, an early user of 4000K lighting, announced that all 4000K lighting which was recently installed, will be removed and replaced by 3000K lighting due to multiple citizen complaints. 

     Any town contemplating installing LED lighting should take note of the fact that essentially everywhere 4000K and excessive lighting has been installed, they are universally detested and abhorred. Don’t make an expensive mistake and install this type of lighting.

      The 2016 report has in the words of many lighting engineers “revolutionized” the lighting industry. This would not have occurred without the AMA putting this report out there forcing lighting companies to address the human health and environmental effects of the lighting they produce. This would not have happened without our AMA report.

Mario Motta, MD, FACC  

https://www.mariomottamd.com/

 

 

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