Grassroots Environmental Education Founder Talks LEDs

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In September, Grassroots Environmental Education founder and executive director Patricia (Patti) Wood will be meeting with all five Port Washington village mayors to discuss LED lighting and plastics. After Great Neck installed LED street lights throughout its villages, Wood thought she should educate other municipalities through the organization’s “How Green Is My Town?” initiative before they did the same.

The installation of LED street lighting is growing due to its lower operational cost and bright light, explained Wood, but leaves residents open to involuntary exposure.

“There’s a huge push to save energy and there has been since the beginning of the century,” said Wood. “There’s always going to be somebody making money from the major changes like from incandescent to compact fluorescent. But it was really an inconvenient light source, it didn’t look great, it had mercury in the bulbs, there was a delayed start up and people just didn’t like that. But then the LED (light emitting diode) technology really took over.”

Wood explained that an LED is the opposite of an incandescent bulb, which is 95 percent heat and five percent energy or light while LED is 95 percent light and five percent heat, making it more efficient. However, through independent scientific-based studies, Wood has learned that the efficient light sources also come with potential risks.

“As always when a new technology comes on the scene they begin to do scientific studies and these scientific studies that are funded by the industry always come out saying there’s no problem,” said Wood. “Then there are the independent studies that are coming from peer reviewed academic research and that’s what we’re basing most of our work on.”

One thing the industry funded and independent studies agree on, Wood said, is that LED street lights allow for practically 24/7 daylight that can cause a disruption in human sleep-wake cycles, the circadian rhythm. According to the American Medical Association, LED streetlights with higher levels of blue-white light can suppress melatonin production during the night, leading to reduced or poor quality sleep, tiredness throughout the day and reduced attention spans.

“The Harvard study showed that there is an aggressive type of breast cancer associated with LED street lighting and prostate cancer as well—those are both hormonally driven that are seen to be very much in tune with environmental triggers,” said Wood. “The Village of Great Neck moved forward and had LED lighting installed throughout the town and they are using bulbs that have a very high energy or high color temperature. The color temperature is rated on a kelvin scale. A bulb will say 2,000k and the k stands for kelvin. That ranges from 1,000 to 10,000 and so 2,700 and below is relatively okay for humans. Above that is unhealthy. They’re putting in bulbs that are 4,000 and up and that is really unhealthy for humans.”

Add to the LED street light exposure the constant use of technology from cell phones to computer screens that also utilize the blue-white light.

“Scientists have a particular interest in this because the younger generation has literally grown up on screens from day one,” Wood said. “When you’re changing a baby’s diaper, you hand them a cell phone and they sit there and they can scroll. They know how to at an unbelievably young age. They just adapt to this technology almost like it’s second nature.”
Wood explained she’s concerned about people who are exposed to the LED lights constantly such as those in occupational settings where they sit in their cubicle and stare at a computer screen all day, but she understands it’s hard to get away from as she, herself, must be wired in for the organization and her business.

To adjust screen lightings to fit a more natural schedule, Wood said locals can download a free app that adjusts cell phone screen lighting called f.lux or an app for $1.99 a month called iris.co. For lightbulbs, Wood said the best option to go with is an incandescent bulb.
“If you go to Home Depot and you go down the lightbulb aisle, you’ve got to go 30 or 40 feet before they have these longer life incandescent bulbs, but that’s what you want to be using,” Wood said. “It is the closest thing to natural daylight. The only thing closer is candlelight.”

Grassroots Environmental Education is a Port Washington-based nonprofit organization founded in 2000 with a mission to educate the public about the links between common environmental exposures and human health. For more information on the organization, visit www.grassrootsinfo.org.

For Wood’s take on plastics and how she intends to take action, check an upcoming edition of the Port Washington News.

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