Manitoba

Manitoba Hydro downplays seizure concerns about strobing street lights

Manitoba Hydro is downplaying concerns malfunctioning LED street lights could trigger seizures in people living with epilepsy.

Bright, rapidly flickering LED lights blamed on cold, faulty wiring

Fatima DeMelo said she is concerned malfunctioning street lights could trigger seizures — and the Epilepsy and Seizure Association of Manitoba concurred. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

Manitoba Hydro is downplaying concerns malfunctioning LED street lights could trigger seizures in people living with epilepsy.

In December, the provincial Crown corporation received 57 reports of strobing or blinking LED street lights across the province. One of the Winnipeg complaints involved a rapidly blinking light in River Heights that created a strobe-like effect at Grosvenor Avenue and Elm Street.

Motorist Fatima DeMelo captured video footage of the light and posted it to Twitter because she was concerned it could trigger a seizure in a friend who lives with a light-sensitive form of epilepsy.

People with epilepsy can take active measures to avoid strobe lights at socials or clubs, but may not expect to encounter bright, flickering lights on city streets, she said.​

"If you are driving your car and suddenly have this strobe effect in your eye, the possibility of having a seizure would be high," she surmised Tuesday in an interview during her lunch break at work.

The Epilepsy and Seizure Association of Manitoba said there is validity to this claim.

"If somebody is photosensitive, is that likely to trigger a seizure? Yes," executive director Sara Bettess said Tuesday after viewing DeMelo's video. "It is a concern, especially if people are unaware and come upon it."

Manitoba Hydro does not share the concern about the potential for strobing street lights to harm people with epilepsy.

"The medical science suggests it is not at an intensity that would cause someone to go into a seizure," Manitoba Hydro spokesperson Bruce Owen said in an interview.

'It could be the wiring'

He said faulty electronics led to the malfunctioning light on Grosvenor Avenue. But when a truck was dispatched to fix the problem, the light in question was working properly on its own.

A Hydro technician said cold weather over the weekend led the LED light to malfunction. But Owen said there are a number of reasons LED lights can fail to work properly.

"It could be the wiring. It could be the ground. It could be the installation itself," Owen said.

"In very simple terms, the light strobes because the power fluctuates or is not sufficient enough to turn on the light completely. Stringing a temporary overhead or replacing the light is the most common resolution."

Manitoba Hydro is in the process of converting about 130,000 street lights to LEDs, which use less than half the power than conventional bulbs use and last longer, Owen said. Nearly half of the lights have already been replaced, he said.

The increased brightness of these lights have spawned complaints about glare as well as praise about improved public safety. 

In December, the provincial Crown corporation received 57 reports of strobing or blinking LED street lights across the province. 2:03

About the Author

Bartley Kives

Reporter, CBC Manitoba

Reporter Bartley Kives joined CBC Manitoba in 2016. Prior to that, he spent three years at the Winnipeg Sun and 18 at the Winnipeg Free Press, writing about politics, music, food and outdoor recreation. He's the author of the Canadian bestseller A Daytripper's Guide to Manitoba: Exploring Canada's Undiscovered Province and co-author of both Stuck in the Middle: Dissenting Views of Winnipeg and Stuck In The Middle 2: Defining Views of Manitoba. His work has also appeared in publications such as the Guardian and Explore magazine.

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