Light pollution plea puts focus on health hazards
Following a petition to curb light pollution from a Mumbai-based IT professional, the Union environment ministry has said it will study the impact of light pollution and address the problem. International studies have found light pollution affects the health of humans and other forms of life adversely.
Chira Bazar resident Nilesh Desai submitted a 60-page document to the environment ministry in the first week of May, highlighting areas with high levels of light pollution in Mumbai and urging the formulation of comprehensive light pollution norms in India. “Sleepless nights due to brightly-lit outdoor areas have become a major concern across all tier I and II cities with construction and development activities in full swing. Without any laws, state agencies are failing to take action against misuse of high intensity lights,” said Desai who also submitted light pollution maps of India and Mumbai to show night time brightness.
Desai’s document is one of the first recommendations in India to adopt a policy to address light pollution. It includes lighting guidelines for buildings, construction projects, open spaces, parks, gymkhanas, eco-sensitive zones, national parks, wildlife sanctuaries, billboards etc. “Artificial light overpowers darkness as cities glow at night disrupting the natural day-night pattern by shifting the delicate balance of environment,” Desai wrote to the ministry. The document also offers suggestions of equipment that may be used to reduce glare.
Previously, Desai had complained about light pollution on Marine Drive and was able to make Wilson Gymkhana remove its floodlights in February.
Union minister of state for environment, Mahesh Sharma, said there was need for more awareness. “The issue will definitely be addressed. We are currently studying impact and issues associated with light pollution since there are limited guidelines worldwide. Citizens’ suggestions will be considered and the matter will be raised before the ministry post elections,” he said.
Doctors studying the impact of light pollution said the amount of light the human eye can adjust to and find useful is between 400 and 500 microns, but lights at advertising hoardings, stadiums and open grounds are all more than 500 microns. Dr. Arjun Ahuja, head of ophthalmology department at KEM Hospital, said, “There are standards for indoor lighting as per the National Building Code, but continuous exposure to excessive use of artificial lights outdoors, especially light emitting diode (LEDs), which are used for construction, are causes of concern as they are known to cause hallucinations, false orientation, sleep disorders, retinal damage and in rare cases, cataract.”
Laws curbing light pollution were first passed in Slovenia in 2008. Since then, other countries in Europe and major cities in USA have followed suit. In January, France passed an order to protect night time darkness and control outdoor light emission. “Exposure to bright lights strains the pupil and continuous exposure leads to blurry vision,” said eye surgeon Dr. Jayshree Thakore. “Patients with early cataract, glaucoma, corneal regeneration, and in some cases hypermetropia [farsightedness] are seriously affected by bright lights of white and yellow colours. Patients with age-related macular degeneration are seriously affected by blue lights.”