Sunday, 29 April 2018

Warehouse LEDs may pose higher cancer risks

Nowhere in industry, perhaps, has the adoption of LED lighting been more dramatic over a few years than in warehouses, which now accounts for most of the new light fittings in them, but is there a health peril that could come back to haunt warehouse operators unless remedial action is taken soon?

The cause behind the remarkable switch away from earlier lighting technologies like fluorescents and metal halide to LEDs is a no brainer. Although initially more costly than other lighting sources, LEDs are up to 30% more energy efficient, have a far longer life, mean much lower maintenance costs, offer a better colour rendition, and are eminently suited to smart sensors. All this means that ROIs are remarkably short, less than two years.

The latest, potentially disturbing health news, however, came in respect of research into street LED lighting in Spain, where scientists believe that they have found evidence of a "strong link" between Britain's new generation of street lighting and two common forms of cancer --- breast and prostate. In regards to prostate cancer the belief is that heavy exposure to LEDs doubles the risk, while raising it 1.5 times for breast cancer. There is, as yet, no proof of a causal link, but the scientists believe that the "blue light" emitted by LEDs may disrupt the body's circadian rhythm, which in turn affects hormone levels, and both prostate and breast cancers are hormone-related.  

For some years the medical profession has expressed concern that white LEDs may be emitting too much blue light which may affect vision and sleep owing to blue light suppressing melatonin, a chemical that controls the body clock. The advice from the American Medical Association recommends reducing the blue wave lengths.

 Blue light is a range of the visible light spectrum emitted by most white LEDs and so warehouse operators should check on this aspect to see if any remedial action can be taken. It is a problem that also affects mobile 'phones, tablets and TV screens. Research into the problem so far has been limited, because LEDs are a relatively new technology, at least in terms of its recent, widespread adoption. If it can be proved soon that the blue light exposure is carcinogenic but no action was taken afterwards to remedy the problem then long-term warehouse workers affected by those common cancers or damaged eyesight would be able to bring legal actions for high damages.

This kind of threat has already emerged in respect of long-term exposure to diesel fumes inside warehouses, following the WHO reclassification of diesel fumes in the workplace as a class 1 carcinogen, meaning that it definitely causes lung and bladder cancer. Given that there is now no longer an excuse for using diesel forklifts inside warehouses, even if they are fitted with cats and soot filters, their future indoor use could lead to future law suits from stricken warehouse workers.

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