LED lights are apparently not safe for us

June 24, 2018

Categories: Skepticism , Tags: Pseudoscience, LED, Light, Danger

It seems that every new advance in technology is accompanied by people who are willing to warn the world of made up dangers. Anti-vaccine advocates have been around since the beginning of vaccine use over a hundred years ago. People have warned others about the dangers of artificial sweeteners, GM foods and the LHC - all of which have a very low risk profile, and confer major benefits to society.

As for lighting, I have a friend who sent his children to a Steiner school. His kids came home one day with a leaflet warning of the dangers of the light coming from computer screens, and how it could be bad for children. The leaflet said that all Steiner children would not be exposed to computers at school, and asked the parents to make sure that their children were not exposed to computers outside of school either.

A Canadian activist has been warning people for years about the "dangers" of CFLs (opens new window) - Compact Fluorescent Lights.

There have been two different warnings about CFLs - about the radiation they produce, and the mercury they have in them. Of course, it will surprise very few people to learn that the amount of mercury in bulbs, released if they're broken, is tiny - less than the amount in a tuna sandwich. And, although they emit more radiation than a traditional incandescent bulb, it's still a negligible amount of EMF, and of a type that won't be of danger to people.

Now we're being warned about the dangers of LED lights (opens new window). Apparently the lack of red in these lights means that we're affecting our health.

The first red flag here is that this campaign is being spearheaded by "Dr" Mercola. Joseph Mercola is well known, much like Mike Adams, as being a spreader of muck - someone who profits from selling alternative medicine and promotes their products as a cure for a world that makes you sick.

Once you dive into the "technical" details of the claims, it becomes obvious that both Dr Mercola and Dr Wunsch are talking technobabble - using technical words from biology, chemistry and physics (mitochondria, wavelength, near-infrared, retina, chromophore, radiation, membrane) - to baffle people and scare them.

The premise is that near-infrared light is required for humans, and that modern living has starved us of this light. What we now lack from the sun by being indoors we used to get from light bulbs. But LED bulbs don't put out much light in the near infrared part of the spectrum.

Dr Wunsch talks waffle about how we get more thermodynamic energy from the sun than food, and that if we miss out on red light we will need to eat more. He also claims that the levels of blue light in LEDs are bad for us - something to do with our endocrine system. Any studies quoted appear to be taken out of context and blown out of proportion.

What annoys me about these kinds of claims is that new technologies tend to be more efficient than what they replace. In this case, CFL bulbs produce light more efficiently than element bulbs, and LED bulbs are more efficient again, with a very long lifetime - leading to cheaper running costs and less environmental damage. Scaremongering and scaring people away from advancements that have the potential to make our lives better is bad for society, and it's unfortunate that far too often people use a fear of new technologies to sell people stuff they don't need to protect them.