LightAware Case studies – The following is a document that LightAware have produced to share with policy makers and service providers to give examples of the effect of fluorescent and LED lighting on the lives of those who cannot tolerate these lighting technologies. Names and other details have been changed to protect people’s privacy.
Bernadette was a university senior lecturer when her academic department altered the lighting in one of its buildings to fluorescent lighting that triggered migraines. Bernadette took her case to an industrial tribunal, which ruled that the university’s need to attract new students through refurbished facilities overrode her disability case. She had no choice but to leave a 30 year old successful and sociable career to work from home for a fraction of the income. An elected local councillor, Bernadette was also unable to attend council meetings in person as the council said it was unable to alter the fluorescent lighting in the chamber. She was therefore unable to represent her electorate by voting on motions, and was deselected by her local political party.
Bernadette has not left her home in the evening for several years since the street lights were replaced with LED lights which trigger migraines. She likes to walk in the daytime along a local promenade and swim in the sea nearby. A public meeting was held to discuss a proposed seafront “improvement” that incorporated the installation of LED lighting. Because it was held in the evening in a venue with migraine-triggering lights, Bernadette was unable to attend, but she sent a representative to request that no LED lights be installed along the promenade, as this would mean she would be unable to walk there even in the daytime as lights are routinely set to switch on automatically in dim light, and when lights malfunction the default setting is to be on. The mayor rejected the request and lights have been installed.
Job loss and isolation have left Bernadette depressed and feeling desperate.
Tony was just a ‘normal young guy’ in his 30s: living in London, working in an office, with a computer and smartphone and enjoying travelling. Some years after having laser eye surgery, he started suffering extreme eye pain and headaches when exposed to LED lighting. He is unable to use modern televisions, computer monitors and phones as the LED backlights trigger severe pain. In the work world, Tony is increasingly cut off from normal activities that people take for granted.
“The LED streetlights I have encountered have been pure and utter hell for me. Being around them I just feel burning right on my eyes. Afterwards I feel like my eyes have been cut to bits – the pain is almost unbearable, it feels like somebody has either burnt into or sliced my eye. It actually feels like the white part of my eye was bleeding.”
This turned his life upside down, making everyday life a constant negotiation to be able to travel and work without exposure to lighting. His employers in an office had helped to accommodate him, using old screen technology and sitting away from difficult lighting. He was just about coping when LED street lighting began to be installed across his borough. It was difficult to find out how to challenge this, as the lighting was being installed by a private company through PFI. When he contacted the Council, they said to get in touch with the private company, but when he did so they passed him back to the council. This lack of clarity and accountability only added to the confusion and disorientation he felt in trying to explain his predicament. In the end he negotiated directly with the Council who agreed to maintain sodium street lighting on his street – but not on the streets beyond. He still has to go through streets with LED lighting to get to work and indeed access the rest of the city at night. This situation is increasing difficult as his office is due to shortly replace fluorescent overheads with overhead LED lights, which are intolerable for him. He fears being forced out of his job within a matter of months, leaving him in a financial precarious situation. Lastly, if the supply of sodium street lights runs out, he could even be forced out of his home. Currently he is lighting his home using a diminishing supply of old incandescent bulbs and having to wear a hat to try to shield his eyes when outside.
Alasdair suffers from a light-sensitive skin condition known as photosensitive seborrhoeic dermatitis, and gets an extreme reaction from all forms of light even through clothing. For many years he couldn’t go outside his blacked-out house in daylight as his skin reacted so badly to sunlight. He was only able to leave the house at night, for a limited period, which was his only opportunity for some fresh air and exercise. He had to leave a successful career where he’d had a senior professional role and was now claiming benefits.
“When I heard that the council were planning to change the local area from sodium to white CFL street lighting I was horrified. Blue light is recognised by leading photo-dermatologists to be much more penetrating and therefore much more aggravating for people with light sensitive skin conditions. The high blue content of the proposed street lighting would mean that I would become totally housebound throughout the day and the night.”
Backed by a lawyer, he argued the case with the local council that his human rights would be infringed by the installation of CFL street lights in the local area and that it also would be a breach of the council’s duty to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people under the Equality Act, which covers public areas including the streets. He sent medical evidence to back up his case and the council agreed to replace a limited area with high-pressure sodium street lights rather than CFLs so he could continue to go outside for a walk.
Charlie was working in a job she loved with great prospects when the organisation she worked for moved to a purpose-built new premises with new fluorescent strip lighting. She soon became ill, suffering from severe headaches and shingles beside her eye. From this time she was unable to tolerate any fluorescent lighting and eventually had to leave her job.
“At first I thought I just had a problem with fluorescent lighting and was ok with LEDs,” she explains, “but one day I was walking by the river when I was bathed in a very bright LED street light from a new housing estate. It felt like a floodlight. I felt a sudden urge to run away, followed by a severe headache, the pain lasted for a whole month and was accompanied by general light sensitivity to all bright light.”
After a few of these episodes she increasingly found LED lighting too piercing and bright, and looking directly at LED lights resulted in migraine. Charlie managed to give medical evidence to the local council (from neurologists and optical specialists) and the council agreed to maintain her street as sodium, and dimmed the very bright lights beside the river. This made a difference to the whole neighbourhood, as many people were having problems sleeping with the sky so bright at night. It was a huge relief to have sodium lighting on her street, but she still can’t go out beyond this area after dark or take part in events in the town.
Kevin is a father and the family breadwinner, but he was unable to continue with his career as an IT professional, as he is not able to tolerate LED lighting and many modern fluorescents, now ubiquitous in the workplace.
Commuting to work has become impossible for him, as LED and HID lights on cars blind and trigger migraines for him whilst driving. Public transport is now also out of his reach as buses, trains and stations have upgraded to LED lights. He finds road signs with white LEDs too uncomfortable to read and they give him bad headaches. Since LED street lights have been introduced into his county, including his street, he’s had to cease driving altogether at night – significantly disrupting family life.
Kevin is no longer able to cycle, walk or drive where ever LED street lights are installed as they instantaneously trigger bad headaches for him, which quickly develop into disabling migraines, including dizziness, not being able to think straight, some loss of coordination, and a general inability to function well – these disabling symptoms sometimes lasting more than a day. To try and cope with LED street lights, he wears a peak cap, specialised tinted glasses and has to keep his hand constantly raised to try and shield his eyes from their light – despite this, these lights still trigger symptoms. Besides all this, he doesn’t feel safe driving on roads lit by these lights, as he finds they actually reduce visibility in areas not directly beneath them, including pavements, side-street parking bays, intersections and pedestrian crossings.
“I feel a constant sense of foreboding as LED lights take over public spaces, causing my life to be increasingly cut off. The resulting social exclusion also has an emotional impact and I feel my livelihood has been wrenched from me”
Paula is a self-employed music teacher in her 50s, and the dazzle of too bright lights whether from street lighting or car headlights leaves her feeling confused and anxious. She is concerned about the current quality of light on a number of levels – first and foremost from a safety point of view, that she doesn’t feel safe when she can’t see properly when driving. It bothers her at dusk but she finds it worse in the dark. She resents the fact that these new lights have been imposed on us with no choice or consultation, when they have such an impact on our experience of our immediate environment. She feels that mthere is too much artificial light, especially at night, and too much over-stimulation generally of light and sound. Blue-rich LED street lighting feels to her like part of this over-stimulation.
“It is well known that light can affect the brain in negative ways,” she says. “Sometimes I think – how has this happened? How is this the kind of environment we want to live in? We don’t need these extra bright lights in the everyday environment, there is no need for it. It’s as if it doesn’t matter that where you live is beautiful or pleasurable. It doesn’t feel at all people-friendly, I feel quite angry about it.”
Kelly has light sensitive lupus, which means she has a severe sensitivity to ultraviolet and blue light. She has to wear a medical mask to go outside in the daytime to protect her from the UV in sunlight. When there were sodium street lights around her home, she could safely go out of the house in the evening. However, now that the local council has replaced the orange sodium lights with blue-rich LED street lighting, she has to wear the medical mask even to go outside after dark. She also feels that the LED lights affect her adversely even wearing the mask, causing headaches and fatigue, and so there may be another factor affecting her other than the blue content of the light.
“When I first became ill I thought I would become a night-time person going out and socialising at night. But I have a worse reaction to cool white and bright white LEDs, now in widespread use both outdoors and indoors, than to sunlight.”
Jessie is a good-natured young lady in her mid teens, currently preparing for her GCSE exams. She finds that the fluorescent tube lights at school, especially the bright cool-white ones, often make her feel dizzy. This is accompanied with difficulty focusing, listening and remembering things. Furthermore, these symptoms can be followed by her experiencing troubling headaches. The impact is far worse from LED lights. She wears special tinted glasses to try and mitigate the effects from this lighting, but they only help to a limited degree.
She looks forward to following her dreams at college in coming years, but since many colleges are upgrading to LED lights, she wonders how this may impact her ability to earn the qualifications she needs to start a job one day.
“I’m concerned about when the relaxing orange street light outside my bedroom window will be changed to LED, because others have been converted in our road already. I’m more prone to my sleep being messed up from light coming through my window due to my sensitivity to some lights. So if the one outside my window gets changed to LED, that would be a disaster for me”
Elizabeth is extremely sensitive to indoor and outdoor LED lighting. When LED streetlights were erected outside her home, she couldn’t even step into her front garden without symptoms including severe eye pain, migraine, nausea, vomiting, and vertigo, these symptoms starting immediately upon exposure.
She recently moved house to live in the countryside to escape the LED street lighting in her town. However, there is no escape as neighbours and farms nearby have started to install LED security lighting outside, restricting her access to only parts of the garden. The neighbours next door have LED Christmas displays so she is trapped in her home for 1 month after dark at Christmas time. She feels this shows little compassion.
When the streetlights changed to LED, her employer also switched to LED backlit computer screens. She was already working under LED lighting and very sick everyday living on painkillers and anti-sickness tablets. She eventually had no choice but to leave her job. The widespread adoption of LED lights in the workplace has left her long term unemployed on no income.
Cut off socially at home, Elizabeth is excluded from using essential communication technologies such as modern phones and computer screens as they are LED backlit.
CFLs can cause symptoms for her too, though nowhere as severe or immediate as those from LED lamps.
Although she is only in her thirties, Elizabeth feels most of the time she is living a very isolated life, that no-one should be subjected to.
“I don’t know where else to go. It’s distressing that nothing is being done, but at least now I know many others who feel the same. LED lights have become commonplace, so I’m glad I have school and college behind me because I wouldn’t be able to go if I was a child today.”