The transition to blue light radiation enhances suppression of the sleep hormone melatonin, scientists say.
Blue light from artificial sources is increasing, which could have negative consequences for human health and the environment in general, according to a study.
Academics at the University of Exeter have identified a shift in the type of lighting technologies European countries use at night to illuminate streets and buildings. Using images produced by the International Space Station (ISS), they found that orange emissions from older sodium lights are rapidly being replaced by white emissions produced by LEDs.
While LED lighting is more energy efficient and costs less to run, researchers say the increased blue light radiation associated with it is causing “substantial biological impacts” across the continent. The study also claims that previous research on the effects of light pollution has underestimated the impacts of blue light radiation.
Chief among the health consequences of blue light is its ability to suppress the production of melatonin, the hormone that regulates sleep patterns in humans and other organisms.
Numerous scientific studies have warned that increased exposure to artificial blue light can worsen people’s sleep habits, which in turn can lead to a variety of chronic health conditions over time.
Rapid rise in blue light in Europe
The increase in blue light radiation in Europe has also reduced the visibility of stars in the night sky, which, according to the study, “may have an impact on people’s sense of nature”.
Blue light can also change the behavior patterns of animals, including bats and moths, as it can alter their movements to or from light sources.
The UK is among the countries identified in the study as most affected by the impacts of the transition to LED night lighting, especially the risk of melatonin suppression. 51% of UK street lighting was powered by LEDs in 2019.
Italy, Romania, Ireland and Spain have also been identified as countries most vulnerable to the impacts of blue light radiation due to their recent transitions to LED night lights.
The impacts were felt far less in countries like Austria and Germany, which still power much of their nighttime lighting with older gas and fluorescent lamps.
The investigation was published in the journal Science Advances
Darren Evans, a professor of ecology and conservation at the University of Newcastle, who was not involved in the study, called it “an extraordinary piece of work” and said it was in line with his own findings on how local street lighting dramatically reduced insect abundance. nocturnal. populations.
The transition to LEDs in the UK “disregarded” the ecological and human costs of such a policy, Evans said.
David Smith of conservation charity Buglife said: “Light pollution can dramatically impact invertebrates, whether in their daily lives, or even reducing populations of species that live in habitats lit by LED lights. Since invertebrates are already experiencing dramatic declines, it is vital that we relieve them of all pressure to give them the best chance of recovery.”
Smith urged the UK government to introduce national targets to reduce levels of light pollution, saying measurements across the country were erratic and uncoordinated.
A look at biology
“We must consider the light of a broader biological perspective than that of humans. [y] we must focus on better quality lighting that is harmonious with our natural world.
Better quality and lower levels of lighting would help to save energy and reduce financial costs, as well as make our environment safer for invertebrates.”
Some councils in England are already trying to reduce the impact of LED lighting, which Evans says are “encouraging signs” that action is being taken. He points out that some authorities are dimming the lights at night and changing the bandwidths of their LED bulbs to produce less harmful blue light, as seen in the Isle of Wight, which uses warmer bulbs that emit less blue light.
By Waseem Mohamed. Article in English