Purple haze: How defective LED light fixtures are casting spooky glow over some suburban roads

If you've spotted spooky purple streetlights in the middle of summer, they probably aren't a sign that a neighborhood has started celebrating Halloween early this year.

Instead, the violet hue seen lately over some suburban neighborhoods is the result of a defective model of LED light fixture that's found its way into streetlights across North America.

Schaumburg is among the places where the purple lights have appeared. The village plans to replace 117 such fixtures along Meacham and Irving Park roads over the next few weeks.

The eerie lights also recently have appeared along Algonquin Road in Schaumburg, leading the village to ask the manufacturer to replace those, as well.

A nationwide manufacturing defect of some LED bulbs is causing the phosphor coating to delaminate from the LED, resulting in the light changing to a blue or purple hue, Schaumburg Communications Director Allison Albrecht said.

"This change in color can occur years after installation and is an issue that the village is currently working with the manufacturer, American Electric Lighting, to address," she said.

In other words, the intended white light comes from a combination of the technology within the fixture and its surface coating. When that coating is defective, a purple hue can result.

Similar sights have been reported in Mount Prospect, downstate Springfield, Wisconsin, North Carolina, California, Vancouver, Canada, and even Ireland.

The problem is considered temporary and correctable, Albrecht said.

Mount Prospect Public Works Director Sean Dorsey said the phenomenon has struck some streetlights near Randhurst Village shopping center, but most LED fixtures in the village have been operating problem-free for up to 13 years so far, he said. The village has replaced nearly all its older sodium streetlights with LED fixtures.

"We're comfortable with them," Dorsey said. "They're a huge savings."

Dorsey said streetlight equipment bound for Mount Prospect has been affected by supply-chain issues just like most other industries, but wait times gradually are getting better.

Because Schaumburg's replacements have to go through an approval process and require installation by contractors, it can take a couple of months for defective fixtures to be corrected after they appear, Albrecht said.

Still, at least one Schaumburg resident is disappointed by the slow pace of getting the lights back to their intended hue. Judi Mueller said the lights along Meacham Road have been purple as far back as March.

"In the end, you have darker streets. You have unsafe streets," she said.

Mueller said there was a similar problem last winter at the west end of the village along Barrington Road that since has been corrected.

She said darker streets make collisions and crime more likely, but also the reflection of the purple light off passing cars creates a laserlike effect that can divert drivers' attention from the roadway.

"Your eye goes to it," she said. "It's distracting."

Schaumburg Police Chief Bill Wolf said there's been no indication the purple lighting has created safety issues. Despite the color change, the brightness of the lights appears to be the same, and police investigators haven't found the lighting to be a contributing factor in any crash or crime, he said.

Circumstances on Meacham Road appear to be no different from those previously corrected without issues on Barrington Road, Wolf added.

"This is nothing new," he said.

  Purplish LED streetlight fixtures along the southern stretch of Meacham Road in Schaumburg are among 117 scheduled for replacement in the next few weeks. John Starks/
  Drivers along Meacham Road in Schaumburg may have noticed a spooky purple glow coming from the streetlights above. It's the result of a defect in the LED fixtures, officials say. John Starks/
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