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Can L-E-D be B-A-D? Yes! And some experts want Chicago to proceed with caution as the city begins replacing more than 270,000 street lights with newer, more energy-efficient LED lights. In this installment of ‘What’s Up?!’ you’ll hear from Dr. John Barentine of the International Dark Sky Association, the leading organization battling light pollution around the globe about how the lighting upgrade in Chicago could negatively impact humans and wildlife.


The LED upgrade will happen over the next four years and Mayor Emanuel says the Chicago Smart Lighting Project will improve safety and quality-of-life in neighborhoods across the city. In announcing the project, the Mayor says the “new lights will provide more reliable and improved nighttime visibility and give communities a greater sense of safety.”

Yes, the new lights will use less energy and Chicago will lose its distinctive nighttime orange glow, but the switch to whiter LED outdoor lighting hasn’t gone so well in other cities where upgrades have already happened.  After starting a retro-fit project and installing 650 new LED lights in 2014, the revolt by Davis, California residents became so intense that city leaders were forced to replace the lights at a cost of $350,000. Residents complained the LED street lights caused vertigo and unnatural glare. Similar issues have been reported in Spokane, Houston and Brooklyn. In New York, residents complained the lights impacted their sleep cycles.

Why? LED lighting contains large amounts of blue light in its spectrum and because blue light brightens the night sky more than any other color of light, minimizing the amount emitted is key. Exposure to blue light at night has been shown to negatively impact human health and endanger wildlife.

As for improving public safety? A 1998 study in Chicago would seem to short circuit that notion. As part of the research, the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority sponsored a test program to evaluate the effect of increased nighttime illumination levels on crime rates. It found no positive impact. Click here to read the study 1998 Chicago Street Light Study

The International Dark Sky Association has issued these LED guidelines for cities like Chicago where LED upgrades are planned.

And that’s ‘What’s Up!?’ News about Earth, space, science and technology.