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Friday, Sep 20, 2019

Excessive unnatural lights bad for health and environment, say experts in Mumbai

mumbai Updated: Oct 31, 2017 11:48 IST
Badri Chatterjee
Badri Chatterjee
Hindustan Times
Juhu beach lit up with lights that the civic body has recently installed.
Juhu beach lit up with lights that the civic body has recently installed.(Satyabrata Tripathy/HT)

If you thought that air pollution was the only reason you were unable to gaze at stars in Mumbai’s night sky, think again. Man-made sources of light are also obscuring skies, as well as giving Mumbaiites sleepless nights.

Environmentalists criticise the installation of 100 high-mast lights at Juhu recently by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), under the beach beautification project. They said it amounts to light pollution. Light pollution (measured in lumens) is the term used for excessively altered, misdirected or obtrusive man-made lights. Studies have found that excessive light has adverse effects on health, besides disturbing animal life and natural eco-systems.

Sumaira Abdulali, convener of Awaaz Foundation, said they have received complaints regarding light pollution from Bandra, Dadar, Mahalaxmi and other areas where large halogen lights were used during immersions. Common sources of light pollution in Mumbai include flood lights on and in buildings, hoardings, car headlights, tall office buildings, shops, factories, streetlights and illuminated venues such as beaches and waterfronts.

A compilation of studies on light pollution by Suraiya Artes and Abdulali, which began in August, has identified five categories of light pollution, health impacts on humans and animals, and the need for a policy on the increased use of artificial light.

“Light pollution adversely affects health in a number of ways, by causing increased headaches, loss of sleep, fatigue, stress, decreased sexual functioning, developmental irregularities, mood fluctuations, anxiety, retinal damage, reduced sperm production and even genetic mutation,” the compilation said. “Light pollution during normally dark periods affects production of melatonin in living beings. Melatonin is a hormone that regulates sleep and behaviour.”

Abdulali has written to the chief minister, municipal corporation and officials from the state environment department, sharing with them the impact of light pollution.

“There needs to be policy for setting up lights so that they don’t interfere with natural light. The beach and seafront in Mumbai are the few remaining areas where moonlight and stars are visible. In India, many festivals are tied to the phases of the moon. Events such as an eclipse, asteroid movements or meteor showers are all visible only through natural light,” said Abdulali. “If we block off the last remaining place to see such events, the aesthetic beauty of a city is compromised.”

One of the common examples of light pollution is oncoming car headlights that lead to temporary or permanent loss of vision. “Glare from these light sources leads to unsafe driving conditions, and is often the cause of accidents,” the study said.

Doctors said long-term exposure to light pollution could lead to psychiatric problems. “The amount of light the human eye can adjust to and find useful is between 400 and 500 microns. However, the current LED lights or those installed on advertising hoardings and even some street lights are well beyond 500 microns. Continuous exposure can lead to retinal damage. Additionally, there have been reports of hormonal changes, hallucinations, and a rise in sleep disorders,” said Dr Arjun Ahuja, head of ophthalmology department, KEM hospital, Parel.

Sion resident Geetanjali Shridhar, who has filed a complaint with Awaaz Foundation, said that she has been unable to sleep properly for the past year owing to light pollution. “After the installation of a streetlight just outside my ground floor home, I have had issues sleeping. Even after fitting black curtains to block the light, the issue persists. Doctors have been prescribing pills so I can sleep. However, I know how it affects my health,” she said.

Light pollution has made it difficult for astronomers to work in Mumbai. The Nehru Planetarium in Worli said that there had been a 50 per cent decline in spotting meteor showers in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR). “Light pollution is a major concern for scientists, astronomers and researchers, as it has been increasing at an alarming rate over the past decade. For citizens to spot a clear sky, they need to travel at least 100 km away from Mumbai today,” said Jatin Rathod, physician and lecturer at the planetarium. “We used to be able to witness hundreds of meteor showers (over a year) eight years ago, but now the numbers have fallen drastically.”

It is a major problem from an educational point of view as well. “Since we have unknowingly polluted the sky, children today don’t know the real beauty that the universe holds. Even visibility through telescopes is compromised due to the lights,” he said.

First Published: Oct 31, 2017 11:48 IST