Kingston LED Streetlight Plan: Understanding the Risks

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An Open Letter to the City of Kingston:

The City of Kingston is currently planning to convert its existing street lamps from conventional sources of light (sodium vapor, mercury vapor, etc.) to LED lights. The argument in favor of this conversion is that LED lights offer cost reductions of 60 to 70 percent over conventional lighting due to reduced energy consumption, reducing both environmental impacts and taxpayer burden.

Yet there are a variety of LED lighting options, and many of them have potentially harmful effects -- in particular, high-intensity LED street lights with correlated color temperatures at or above 4000 K, which emit high levels of blue light. A recent press release by the American Medical Association reports a number of pertinent findings regarding high-intensity LED street lights:

1. they create harsher glares than conventional street lights,
2. they disrupt circadian rhythms, leading to reduced sleep and poor daytime functioning,
3. and they disrupt the lives of nocturnal wildlife.

We are concerned about these findings for several reasons. First, the harsher glares of high-intensity LED street lights may lead to less safe road conditions, which may increase the potential for traffic accidents. Second, potential disruption of sleep in residential areas may lead to decreased worker productivity, which in turn may lead to reduced economic growth in the City of Kingston and elsewhere in the county. Third, this same potential for disrupted sleep may lead to increased traffic accidents resulting from “drowsy driving.” Fourth, exposure to blue light (as found in high-intensity LED street lights) has been linked to increased rates of diabetes and obesity -- health conditions that lead not only to increased costs of healthcare, but also to decreased economic productivity. Fifth, the impacts on wildlife may lead to ecological damage that, compounded with the effects of climate change, may have long-term consequences such as loss of biodiversity.

We, the undersigned, recognize the tremendous cost savings that switching from conventional sodium- and mercury-based street lighting to LED street lighting would create for the City of Kingston. We also recognize the importance of environmental conservation, and that replacing the existing streetlights with LED lights would significantly reduce energy consumption by the city. We applaud the commitment and efforts of city government to make Kingston an ecologically and economically sustainable city, and it is with this in mind that we ask the City of Kingston to proceed with care when choosing new street lights.

We ask that Climate Smart Kingston and the Mid-Hudson Streetlight Consortium seriously consider the merits of lower-intensity LED streetlights with correlated color temperatures of 3000 K or lower for our city’s streetlights. A recent study found that LED lights with correlated color temperatures of 3000 K or less are actually “more suitable for street lighting” as they provide all of the benefits with fewer of the negative impacts of high-intensity LED lights. Furthermore, cities that have installed LED street lights with “warmer” colors (i.e., those that emit less blue light than high-intensity LED lights) have found them to be equally energy efficient and just as effective at providing safe, lighted streets, and some cities (including the City of New York) that have installed harsher, high-intensity LED lights at correlated color temperatures of 4000 K and higher are now considering dimming these lights in the wake of the AMA guidance and numerous complaints.

We believe that the City of Kingston has the best interests of its residents in mind, and it is in this spirit that we ask you to review the literature and avoid the mistake of installing high-intensity LED street lighting.

Cristopher M. Livecchi, PhD

City of Kingston resident

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