Over the last couple of years, LEDs have grown increasingly popular as an environmentally friendly alternative to incandescent and florescent bulbs. And why not? After all, LEDs use significantly less energy than Compact Fluorescent Lamps or CFLs, they are competitive price-wise with CFLs, they emit superior lighting and can even save you money on energy costs down the line. More importantly, they do not contain any mercury. Yet despite all of this, LEDs do have a dark side.
A study by University of California Irvine* found that LEDs contain lead, arsenic and a dozen other potentially dangerous substances. The high intensity red bulbs contained the most arsenic, while the low intensity red lights had high amounts of lead. White bulbs had lower amounts of lead but worrisome levels of nickel. Several different studies have found other ways that various LED colors can possibly be damaging to our health.
In one study, a vision researcher from Complutense University in Madrid reported that long-term exposure to LED lights can cause irreparable damage to the retinas of the human eye**. According to Dr. Celia Sánchez-Ramos, the light from LEDs comes primarily from the short-wave, high-energy blue and violet end of the visible light spectrum. And prolonged, continuous exposure to this light may be enough to damage retinas. This is the same light we stare at on our computer monitors, mobile phones and television screens or indoor and outdoor lights.
***Yet another study, published in the Journal of Environmental Management, shows that nighttime exposure to certain types of artificial light can suppress the body’s ability to make melatonin, the hormone that helps regulate sleep and is also well-known for its mood-enhancing properties.
It was found that the biggest culprit is the artificial light that contains the highest percentage of blue light in its full spectrum mix, and one of the top offenders is the light-emitting diode (LED) bulb. In fact, LEDs were shown to suppress melatonin at rates five times greater than bulbs that give off the warmer “orange-yellow” light, like the incandescent lights. It’s most damaging when we expose ourselves to this light at night when we should be in the dark.
Like all new technology, as time goes by more and more will become known about both the benefits and the drawbacks. Until then, it bears watching.