25/10/2010 2 min

Lighting systems using light-emitting diodes (LEDs): health issues to be considered

Today, the French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health & Safety (ANSES) (1) is publishing its expert appraisal on the health issues surrounding lighting systems using LEDs; such a study has never been carried out before. Because of their low electricity consumption and high efficiency, lighting systems using LEDs are at the forefront of technology in terms of energy performance and are well-fitted to play a role in energy-saving policy. The market for these systems is growing rapidly. However, risks have been identified concerning the use of certain LED lamps, raising potential health concerns for the general population and professionals.

The principal characteristic of diodes sold for lighting purposes is the high proportion of blue in the white light emitted and their very high luminance (“brightness”). The issues of most concern identified by the Agency concern the eye due to the toxic effect of blue light and the risk of glare.

The blue light necessary to obtain white LEDs causes toxic stress to the retina. Children are particularly sensitive to this risk, as their crystalline lens is still developing and is unable to filter the light efficiently.

These new lighting systems can produce “intensities of light” up to 1000 times higher than traditional lighting systems, thus creating a risk of glare. The strongly directed light they produce, as well as the quality of the light emitted, can also cause visual discomfort.

As part of its expert appraisal, ANSES carried out various pioneering studies to evaluate the risks of these new lighting systems, on the basis of the European photobiological safety standard (2). Some of these products fall into higher Risk Groups than certain traditional lighting systems which are still available to the general public.

In this context, ANSES recommends that only LEDs belonging to Risk Groups similar to those of traditional lighting systems be accessible to the general public, with higher-risk lighting systems being reserved for professional use under conditions in which it is possible to guarantee the safety of workers.

Furthermore, ANSES emphasises the need to reduce the perceived luminous intensity, in order to mitigate the risk of glare.

The agency also recommends avoiding the use of light sources with a strong blue component in places frequented by children.
Lastly, ANSES has made various recommendations concerning consumer information, modifications to and implementation of the standards in force and the need for further knowledge of health issues surrounding artificial lighting.

(1) Since 1 July 2010, ANSES has assumed all the missions that were previously the responsibility of the French Food Safety Agency (AFSSA) and the French Agency for Environmental and Occupational Health Safety (AFSSET).
(2) NF EN 62471:2008 This standard applies to lamps and devices using lamps. It recommends exposure limits for radiation from these light sources. It considers all of the photobiological hazards which may affect the eye (thermal and photochemical hazards) and defines 4 risk groups: risk group 0 (no risk), risk group 1 (low risk), risk group 2 (moderate risk), risk group 3 (high risk).