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French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health & Safety

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Updated on 21/09/2016

Health effects of optical radiation

Presentation and work of ANSES

Keywords : Light, Lighting, LED (Light-emitting diode)

The health risks associated with exposure to visible light are well known in the case of, for example, prolonged exposure to intense radiation sources (arc welding without eye protection, gazing directly at the sun without the appropriate sunglasses, etc.). The development of new light sources (LED) or new technologies (3D) currently raises the question of their impact on eyesight, especially for those who are most sensitive such as children, particularly during the development phase of eyesight, as well as relating to long-term consequences. ANSES presents its work in this area.

Light-emitting diodes (LED)

ANSES published a collective expert appraisal report in 2010 on the health effects of lighting systems using LEDs.

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 suited to play a role in energy-saving policy. Their market is growing rapidly. However, risks have been identified concerning the use of certain LED lamps, raising potential health concerns for the general population and for professionals.

The principal characteristic of diodes sold for lighting purposes is the high proportion of blue in the white light emitted and their high radiance (“brightness”). The issues of greatest concern identified by the Agency involve the eye, due to the toxic effect of blue light and 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./p>

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 conducted various tests to assess the risks of these new lighting systems, on the basis of the European photobiological safety standard (2). Some of these products, previously unavailable to the general public, fall into higher Risk Groups than certain traditional lighting systems.

In this context, ANSES recommends that only LEDs belonging to Risk Groups similar to those of traditional lighting systems be available 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, the Agency 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 on the health effects related to artificial lighting.


“3D” technologies

Recent years have seen the rapid development of new audiovisual technologies in three dimensions (3D). Following the proliferation of films in 3D at the cinema since the mid-2000s, an emerging trend is the development of offers for 3D televisions, home game consoles and mobile telephones.

The development of these 3D technologies raises, however, the issue of their impact on eyesight. Nintendo has therefore accompanied the placing of its “Nintendo 3DS” console on the market with a prominently displayed warning on the outer packaging of the product: “the use of 3D displays by children of six years or under may damage their eyesight. Consequently you should follow these recommendations:

  • only children over six years of age should use 3D displays;
  • if the console risks being used by a child of six years or younger, the 3D display should be blocked by a parent or guardian using the parental control feature.”

The development of these applications that can be used by a younger audience, and prevention messages aimed at restricting the use of these consoles to children over six years of age, are behind questions from the “Robin Hood” association (recognised in terms of environmental protection), which then requested that ANSES study the existing scientific evidence on this topic, in January 2011.

In its Opinion of July 2011, the Agency highlighted the lack of available data to date on the potential health effects of 3D game consoles. ANSES considered that it was not possible to rule on the health risks related to the use of 3D game consoles nor to determine a precise age limit above which exposure to 3D game console images would not affect the development of children’s eyesight.

However, some scientific studies suggest that, when watching 3D images, visual fatigue appears to occur more quickly and intensely than with 2D images. In addition, 3D technologies are constantly evolving and the availability of 3D audiovisual equipment, especially for home use, is growing rapidly. A wide range of population groups might be exposed to different 3-D technologies (children, the general public, workers, etc.). These technologies might thus be accessible to children whose visual system is still developing.