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Guest Opinion: Fatal crash sheds light on need to reconsider LED street lighting

An LED street light shines above a memorial site set up near the scene of a fatal accident on Auburn Boulevard. // Mike Hazlip

Guest opinion submitted by Mark Baker–
In February, I met with the Citrus Heights staff about the dangerous glare at the intersection of Auburn Boulevard and Greenback Lane. 

I made a presentation about the glare coming from 5000 Kelvin LED streetlights, business floodlights and car headlights, and I asked the staff to replace the dangerous 5000K LED streetlights with 2700K or less color temperature lights and to notify businesses on the corner to do the same.

The presentation included photos of the intersection, information about light pollution, information about the health dangers of high color temperature lights and recommended maximums for human-safe lighting. The staff listened attentively and asked excellent questions, but in the end, they told me that it was unlikely anything could be done to solve the problem.

Last week, The Sentinel reported that two people were killed in a car crash near this very same intersection.  This crash seems to have taken place a block or two away from the intersection, but I felt compelled to write this column because the article reminds us how dangerous driving already is and glare from LED lights just makes it that much more dangerous. 

I have been at the Auburn/Greenback intersection several times and it is exceedingly difficult to see because of the glare from so many high color temperature lights.

LED lights have been touted as an energy saving technology, but not enough has been said about the dangers of LED light, especially regarding high color temperature lights that exceed 2700 Kelvin.

These high color temperature LED lights may appear white, but the actual wavelength of the light emitted from the LED is blue. Blue wavelength light has a high energy, compared to red wavelength light. This means that the blue wavelength light enters our eyes, bounces around and causes glare, thus impairing our vision.

In addition, blue wavelength light causes permanent eye damage and this damage is cumulative. Once killed, the ganglion photoreceptors in our eyes do not regenerate. Eventually, we develop macular degeneration in the eye, a non-curable disease that can be slowed only by expensive eye injections.

Artificial light has certainly been a useful invention for society. Artificial light allows us to shop, recreate and travel at night. Candlelight and incandescent light have provided this light in the format of a soft glow for many, many years.

LED light, on the other hand, no longer provides the soft glow. The high energy wavelength light decreases our ability to see and make sense of our surroundings. Our eyes are now fighting the technology, rather than the technology working for our eyes.

To help prevent further tragedies, Citrus Heights must replace all city street lights that exceed 2700K in color temperature. In addition, the city must require that all businesses do the same.

Further, outdoor lighting must be shielded and diffused so that the light is not shined directly into our eyes. Human eyes need very little light to see. These bright white LED lights far exceed the biological limits of human eyes.

Mark Baker is founder of the advocacy group Soft Lights, which helps educate decision makers about the dangers of high color temperature LED lights and provides assistance to those with light sensitivity disabilities.

*Publisher’s Note: The Sentinel gave the city an opportunity to comment regarding the color temperature of lighting and the outcome of the Feb. 19 meeting referenced in this guest column. City spokeswoman Nichole Baxter replied and said lighting levels of city-owned street lights on Auburn Boulevard near Greenback Lane are 4000K, but a “handful” of lights are owned by SMUD and may differ in light temperature.

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