August 21, 2007
by Linda G. Miller

Event: Light and Health: Don’t Throw the Baby Out with the Bath Water!
Location: Center for Architecture, 08.16.07
Speaker: Joan E. Roberts, Ph.D. — Professor of Chemistry & Chair, Fordham University Natural Science Department
Organizer: Illuminating Engineering Society of New York

Light and Health

Nothing beats real sunlight.

Jessica Sheridan

Want to see the lighting community light up? Just mention the pending legislation to “ban the bulb.” An acknowledged energy hog, 5% of the electricity a light bulb uses goes to light the bulb while 95% is heat. If we follow in the footsteps of countries like Australia, which plans to phase out incandescent bulb use in favor of energy efficient Compact Fluorescent Lights (CFLs) by 2010, the warm, reflected light we’ve become accustomed to since Thomas Edison might be a thing of the past here as well. But the concern of some scientists and lighting designers has more to do with health than just aesthetics. Researchers like Fordham University’s Joan E. Roberts, Ph.D., Chair of the Natural Science Department, and her colleagues have produced fresh data proving that new “green” energy efficient sources such as CFLs and LEDs do not give humans their required “dosage” of spectral requirements — particularly the spectrum provided by incandescent lights.

Roberts has studied the positive and negative effects of light on the human eye. Humans evolved being exposed to different spectrums of daylight in the morning and afternoon, and darkness in the evening, so it is important that artificial lighting mimics the natural spectrum. Ocular light serves two functions: vision, and control of circadian rhythm. The incorrect spectrum at the wrong time of day will affect sleep/wake cycles, blood pressure, stress, metabolism, and the immune system (think of jet lag or the afternoon headache you get from working under fluorescent lighting). If you happen to be reading this article in late afternoon or evening, Roberts suggests you get a screen for your computer to block out blue light. If that doesn’t help your headache, turn off your florescent light and bask in the red spectrum light your body needs from your trusty incandescent bulb.

“It’s not just about designing well-lit spaces,” says lighting designer Randy Sabedra, past president of the Illuminating Engineering Society of New York (IESNY) and the event’s moderator. “It’s about designing healthy spaces. And it’s not about banning one source of light for the sake of saving energy; it’s about insuring that the performance of all sources is improved for our health.”