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New Scotland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, July 3, 2008

Light pollution bill switched off

By David S. Lewis

ALBANY COUNTY – A bill designed to reduce the amount of light pollution in the state of New York died in the Senate after being passed for the eighth straight year in the State Assembly.

The act aims to reduce the amount of harmful outdoor lighting and set standards for outdoor lighting, as well as provide for the designation of dark-sky preserves.   The bill defines “light pollution" as any “adverse effect of outdoor lighting, including, but not limited to, glare and sky glow.”

Known as the Healthy, Safe, and Energy Efficient Outdoor Lighting Act, the bill was sent from the Assembly to the Senate Rules Committee in January 2008, where it died; after returning to the Assembly, it passed again and was referred back to the Senate Rules Committee.  The Senate again failed to act on the bill before adjourning on June 25.

The New York branch of Safe and Efficient Lighting to Enhance the Nighttime Environment, a lobby known by its acronym SELENE after the Greek goddess of the moon, has made passage of the bill central to its mission, as well as preserving our dark-sky heritage.  The group's website speculates that the unexpected retirement of majority leader Joseph Bruno occupied the Senate's attention for the last hours of its session and prevented the necessary discussion to move the bill forward. 

Recent studies in Israel have linked night lighting to breast cancer in women.  The hormone melatonin, which studies have shown helps prevent tumors and fight cancer, is produced primarily during sleep.  Melatonin production is severely impeded by light, especially that of computer screens or fluorescent bulbs, which has led the Worldwide Health Organization to declare night-shift occupations a “probable carcinogen.” 

The energy-efficient bulbs popularized by conservationists impede melatonin production much more than incandescent bulbs, according to The Washington Post.   Abraham Haim, an Israeli chronobiologist with University of Haifa was involved in the study which questions the spiral light-bulb fad.

"This may be a disaster in another 20 years," Haim told The Post, "and you won't be able to reverse what we did by mistake."

Haim suggested more studies before policies limiting the use of incandescent bulbs are put into effect. 

Crime is often cited as a reason to keep the lights on at night, but some studies show that, while night-lighting reduces the fear of crime, it is not clear it prevents crime.  A study by Barry Clark of the Astronomical Society of Victoria, Australia, shows that, despite increased security lighting in Britain, street crime there has increased 28 percent.  Clark found that many of the tests conducted on determining the effectiveness of security lighting were intrinsically flawed, such as focusing on areas with heavy criminal activity. 

When street lighting was installed, crime dropped; however, that conclusion doesn't take into account other factors such as increased policing and citizen reaction, like the installation of alarm systems. 

In the United States, a 1997  Justice Department study found that “lighting is effective in some places, ineffective in others, and counter-productive in still other circumstances...We can have very little confidence that improved light prevents crime.”

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